Military tank for Leominster park unveiled
By Nick Mallard, [email protected]
LEOMINSTER — Both in stature and in what it stands for, the tank at Johnny Ro Veterans Memorial Park is quite a sight.
And the combat-tested vehicle isn’t afraid to let the world know it.
With “I’m kind of a big deal” lettered on the cannon, the tank was unveiled to the hundreds on hand Sunday afternoon, showing major progress in the building of the memorial park named after one of the city’s fallen soldiers.
The saying is one used by the late Army Pfc. Jonathan Roberge, who was killed by an explosion while driving on patrol in Iraq in 2009. His father, John Roberge, explained that while his 22-year-old son wasn’t the highest ranking person in the military, he would joke that he was “kind of a big deal” since he was the driver for his group.
“But this isn’t just for Jonathan,” his father said at the unveiling. “It’s for all the soldiers from Massachusetts who have taken part in (the Iraq and Afghanistan wars). The goal is to never forget these men and women.”
The 60-ton tank came to the city from Bladenboro, N.C., donated by the Army National Guard. Workers at Steel-Fab in Leominster worked on the tank, stripping it down and painting it before it was placed as the centerpiece at the park.
“The greatest gift we can give is to be here today and not forget,” Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella said. “It’s a beautiful spot for something like this. We’ll continue to support the (Roberge) family as a city.”
The tanks stands as the centerpiece of the Mechanic Street park, with the names of the four soldiers killed on Feb. 9, 2009 in Mosul, Iraq. In addition to Jonathan Roberge, Sgt. Joshua Ward, Lt. Col. Garnet Derby and Spec. Albert Jex all have their names displayed in the side of the tank.
Brigadier General Thomas J. Sellars, the former Commander of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, commended the city of Leominster for showing such dedication to its veterans.
“What you see here is a community coming together to honor the dedication and service to one of its sons,” Sellars said. “That what the best part of America is; communities coming together.”
John Roberge echoed the sentiment, adding that he looked forward to the finished park while taking time to thank all involved with it up to this point.
“This a community project,” the elder Roberge said. “Without everyone’s help, this wouldn’t happen. After 27 months, it’s moving forward and it is a big deal.”
* Story by Nick Mallard, photographs by Steve Sheridan and Scott Laprade *
R.I.P. Jonathan. We will never forget you.