In late December 2008, 21-year-old Army Specialist Matthew M. Pollini was granted a short leave. The anxiety of an impending deployment to Iraq was tempered by joy: He married his girlfriend before a justice of the peace in his parents’ house and spent time with family and friends in his hometown of Rockland.
He also shopped for supplies to bring overseas, using his own money to buy a stack of coloring books he hoped to give to Iraqi children.
“He was on more of a peace mission than a war mission,” said Fred Pollini, his father. “He just wanted to help people.”
But Pollini never got a chance to hand out the coloring books. He was killed in January 2009, just weeks into his deployment, when the vehicle he was riding in tipped and crashed as it drove over craters left by bombs.
“When Matt died, my head was in a tunnel,” said Fred Pollini, a former police officer. “I’d never been so out of control in my life. I didn’t even know my name, for crying out loud. I didn’t know where to start, where to end.”
Pollini was one of three fallen military members, along with Marine Sergeant Andrew K. Farrar Jr. of Weymouth and Marine Lance Corporal Walter K. O’Haire of Rockland, honored at a memorial dedication ceremony in South Weymouth on Saturday.
Elected officials, military leaders, and dozens of well-wishers gathered at the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station, now a burgeoning 1,400-acre residential development called SouthField, for the unveiling of three engraved monuments honoring the South Shore men.
All three were killed in action between 2005 and 2009.
The ceremony, timed to coincide with Veterans Day weekend, also marked the 237th anniversary of the Marine Corps’ founding.
O’Haire was killed in May 2007 at the age of 20, when his platoon came under enemy fire while patrolling Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. He had been in the country for about two months.
“I think he chose the Marines just to bust my chops, because I was in the Navy,” said O’Haire’s brother William. “You couldn’t hold him back. He didn’t like being trapped. He was a pretty free spirit.”
William O’Haire remembered his brother as a “huge” part of the family, and someone who called home at every opportunity.
“He loved his niece and nephew,” he said. “One of my most fond memories is him just holding the two of them right before he deployed.”
Now, William O’Haire said he has become “like family” with the Marines in his brother’s unit.
“They still watch out for our family to make sure we’re all right,” he said. “And we don’t want them to feel bad. A lot of them originally had survivor’s guilt. . . . Just having a link between us and them, it’s easier for all of us.”
The other Marine honored Saturday, Farrar, was killed in Iraq in 2005 at age 31 when he stepped on live electrical wires while searching for insurgents. Farrar, a Weymouth resident, had a wife and two children.
Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray spoke at the dedication, which featured a flyover by two Marine CH-53 helicopters.
“We’ve lost some of the best and brightest in our state,” Murray said in an interview before his remarks.
Other speakers included Auxiliary Bishop John A. Dooher of the Boston Archdiocese, who had baptized two of the servicemen, US representatives Stephen Lynch and William Keating, and Coleman Nee, state secretary of Veterans Services.
Military leaders also spoke at the event: Major General L. Scott Rice, who oversees the Massachusetts National Guard; and General William F. Mullen III, who served 19 months in Iraq and drew a standing ovation for an emotional speech that defended US military involvement there.
Many in the crowd were veterans or knew the affected families. Rick Bruce, a 53-year-old Weymouth resident, has two sons in the military and knows the Farrar family through them. He said Farrar had a reputation in the Marines as a true leader.
“He would never stand behind his troops,” Bruce said. “He always led from the front.”
Members of all three families said they hoped the stone monuments would remind SouthField residents about the military history of the property — and the sacrifice their sons made.
“I’m glad they do these things to keep their memories alive; we have to keep them in our hearts,” said Fred Pollini.