The lives of three young men who were inspired by post-9/11 patriotism to serve their country — and lost their lives in Iraq — will be celebrated Saturday on the eve of Veterans Day at the site of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station.
Those to be remembered are Marine Sergeant Andrew K. Farrar Jr. of Weymouth, who died on his 31st birthday on Jan. 28, 2005; Marine Lance Corporal Walter K. O’Haire of Rockland, who was killed in action May 9, 2007, six days short of his 21st birthday; and 21-year-old Army Specialist Matthew M. Pollini, also of Rockland, who was killed in action on Jan. 22, 2009. Each will have an engraved stone affixed in a small garden, part of a series of individual pocket parks spaced along the greenway of SouthField, a new 1,400-acre residential community rising on the grounds of the former military installation.
The ceremony no doubt will be one of many across the region this weekend honoring men and women of all generations who have served in the military, as well as all who have lost their lives. But the rite at SouthField, in particular, is twofold: It aims to honor those three fallen sons with roots in the tri-town area of Abington, Rockland, and Weymouth who have died in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, while also paying tribute to the new development’s military past.
Saturday’s program, which includes the monument dedications as well as remarks by local, state, and military officials, will feature two Marine CH53 helicopters performing a military flyover.
Kevin R. Donovan, chief executive officer of South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., which is repurposing the old base, worked with veterans agents in Rockland and Weymouth on the memorial plan, which also includes naming streets in the development for deceased veterans from the three towns. He is encouraging the public to attend the ceremony to show support for the first three monuments to veterans who gave their lives for freedom.
“This is something I have always wanted to do,’’ Donovan said in an interview. “We had the ability to recognize the service these young kids gave so people don’t forget them, while giving some comfort to their families.”
And it is a comfort, said Andrew Farrar Sr., whose son, a husband and father of two, has been gone for seven years now.
“You think about what is required to maintain the lifestyle that we have, what freedom is all about, and the fact that 1 percent of the population enlists to do the work for the rest of us,’’ Farrar said. “It’s an obligation every American has, to give some time every day, to remember.”
Farrar flies a Gold Star flag at his Weymouth home to signify a fallen soldier, and he says people often stop to knock on the door to express their thanks for his son’s service.
“That gives me a little bit of faith in our society,’’ he said.
Farrar Jr., the oldest of four children and a 1992 Weymouth High School graduate, died after accidentally stepping on live electrical wires during a search for Iraqi insurgents. He had just broken his hand and had the chance to return to lighter duty while assigned to the Headquarters and Service Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, but he declined, officials said.
At the time, he was scheduled to return home in three weeks. In 2001, Farrar had been planning to return to civilian life for a career in law enforcement when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks inspired him to reenlist and head to his second tour of duty in Iraq.
O’Haire, known as Gator, after the popular 1970s-era Wally Gator cartoon, was one of nine children. He was born in South Boston but had lived in Rockland for 10 years. A soldier in the 2d Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, he died in Al Anbar province when he came under enemy fire while patrolling with his platoon. He had only been in Iraq a little more than two months.
His mother, Maureen O’Haire, said she nicknamed her son Gator because, like the cartoon character, he was high-energy and couldn’t keep still.
“Gator was one of a kind,’’ she said. “We were very blessed. They just don’t make them like him.’’
O’Haire said her son was determined to serve his country because he wanted to make a difference.
“He told me he’d be home for his birthday,’’ she said. “And he was. Just not the way we imagined it.’’
O’Haire said she is excited about the memorial for her son and that several of the men he served with in Iraq will be attending the ceremony, as well.
“He was the only one who lost his life in that platoon,’’ she said. “But I have kept up with them. They loved him like a brother. And I don’t want them to have survivors’ guilt.”
Pollini, who was married and from a close-knit family with five other siblings, was a 2006 graduate of Rockland High School, and worked at the meat department of the Hannaford’s Supermarket in that town. He was a military policeman and a member of the 772d Military Police Company — an Army National Guard unit based in Taunton. He died when the vehicle he was riding in tipped over on bomb-torn ground.
At the time of his death, family members fondly recalled his propensity for practical jokes and how much he loved paintball and fireworks.
Rockland veterans services director Anton Materna said he is grateful a lasting memorial will honor the three local boys.
“I remember when I got the phone calls’’ about their deaths, he said. “It was very emotional. Hopefully, we don’t have to dedicate any more parks.”
Coleman Nee, the state secretary for veterans services, said he can’t say enough about the plan to honor Farrar, O’Haire, and Pollini.
“When you do something like this, you honor all the Gold Star families,’’ Nee said. “For most ordinary folks, who don’t live it every day, it’s really not at the top of their minds. But it is for the 160-plus families in Massachusetts who have had someone go off and not return.”
The Rev. Jim Hickey, pastor at Holy Family Catholic Church in Rockland, knows about the sadness of loss all too well, having conducted the funerals and burial services of both O’Haire and Pollini.
“Rockland is a very traditional place, very blue-collar,’’ Hickey said. “And there is a lot of regard for the sacrifices of these guys.”
So when residents heard about the plans to memorialize the fallen soldiers’ service at SouthField, the reaction was good, Hickey said. Already, the town has placed a memorial for Pollini at the corner of Union and Market streets, and for O’Haire at the corner of Union Street and North Avenue, he said.
“People feel enormously supportive of their families,’’ Hickey said. “It tears your heart out, they are such special people.’’
Saturday’s service takes place at 9:30 a.m. at the SouthField Town Green on Parkview Street.Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.