After experiencing some “close calls” during his six-month tour in Iraq as a machine-gunner in the US Marine Corps, Chris Lessard does not underestimate his good fortune in returning safely from Operation Phantom Fury to his wife, Dora, and their 6-year-old daughter, Chiara, at their Newton home in February 2005.
Today, Lessard continues his public service as a Newton firefighter and program director of Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, a Boston-based organization that provides advocacy services for veterans of post-2001 conflicts and their families while honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I’m extremely lucky that I made it home, when so many others didn’t,” said the 1996 Belmont High grad, who had already completed four years in the military before reenlisting after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “Whatever I can do now to help, nothing is off-limits. I’m proud of our outreach efforts, and our focus on changing as many lives in a positive way as we possibly can.”
Lessard joined Massachusetts Fallen Heroes shortly after it was founded in 2010 with the mission of creating a veterans memorial. A groundbreaking ceremony took place on Oct. 3, 2014, for the Massachusetts Iraq and Afghanistan Fallen Heroes Memorial, a 50-foot obelisk and interactive memorial and museum in Boston’s Seaport Square Park.
Over the past five years, however, the nonprofit has evolved into a multifaceted organization providing educational, employment, medical, legal, financial, and other specialized assistance through a network of local service providers. In addition, the organization holds a series of events and excursions throughout the year to lend added emotional support to veterans and Gold Star families grieving a loss.
As someone who understands the hardships of war and its enduring impact, Lessard said he is committed to rolling out programs reflecting evolving areas of need, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, suicide awareness, and civil service issues. The main source of financial support will come from a special Massachusetts Fallen Heroes car registration plate, bearing the message “Honor Their Sacrifice.” It is available for preorder online at a cost of $40 plus a $1.20 processing charge.
“Everyone says they want to help the troops,” he said. “This is a chance to do it.”