Whether they were teachers, peers, or fellow Marines, those who knew Nicholas George Xiarhos attest that he never hesitated to come to the aid of those in need.
The eldest son of Yarmouth deputy police chief Steven Xiarhos enlisted in the US armed forces nine days after graduating from Dennis-Yarmouth High School. He volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan after serving in the Iraq War, and in July of 2009, while leading his squad into a combat zone in response to a distress signal from Marines, the 21-year-old corporal was killed in action.
On Sunday, NASCAR will continue its Memorial Day tradition of honoring fallen soldiers during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (6 p.m. on Fox), as Cpl. Xiarhos will have his name fixed on the windshield of the No. 00 Chevrolet driven by Quin Houff.
This will be the sixth straight year NASCAR has held its “600 Miles of Remembrance” tribute by placing the names of fallen military personnel on all 40 cars.
“When they see that car, someone might ask, ‘Who is that kid?’ ” said Steven Xiarhos, who retired last December after a 40-year-career in law enforcement.
“Maybe they'll hear the story, and maybe they'll receive some kind of strength, which we all need right now. Especially during [the coronavirus] crisis, Nick would have been the first person in line to help people.”
When Steven Xiarhos told Houff about his son’s last words to his mother, Lisa — “Don’t worry about me, Mom ... I’m living the dream” — the driver felt an even greater connection to the fallen Marine.
“That has been one of my mottos throughout my journey,” said Houff, who is making his 23rd Cup start and second appearance in the Coca-Cola 600. The Virginia native will race with a Purple Heart shirt featuring images of Xiarhos and the slogan, “Living the Dream.”
“It’s crazy to think a guy like me can have that motto because of a guy who made sacrifices like Nick," said Houff.
In his three years of military service, Xiarhos earned several medals, including the National Defense Medal, Meritorious Mast for Outstanding Performance, and a Purple Heart. He was posthumously awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for his actions in Afghanistan.
In 2008, his 1st Battalion 9th Marine Regiment met with President Barack Obama after two of their fellow Marines died while preventing a suicide truck from reaching their base in Iraq.
After returning from Iraq, Xiarhos asked his commanding officers to let him join another battalion and deploy to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Eventually, he was able to join the 2nd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment and he linked up with fellow 2006 Dennis-Yarmouth High graduate Andrew Coville at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan the month before his death.
On July 23, 2009, Xiarhos and his unit were heading back from their post in armored vehicles when they received a distress call from Marines in enemy territory. Xiarhos, the commanding officer, ordered his vehicle to turn around, but it detonated an improvised explosive device, fatally wounding the Yarmouth native.
“Nick was an all-American kid,” said Steven Xiarhos. “He was courageous, but also passionate. He had that ability to protect with kindness and never let anyone pick on anybody.
“Marines from both battalions and his high school friends, they all tell the same stories. ‘Nick was the guy you looked to for help.’ Somehow, it came naturally to him to help others, but it cost him his life.”
Steven Xiarhos, 61, has continued his son’s efforts to help others by creating the Nicholas Xiarhos Memorial Foundation and raising money for several charities over the past decade.
The son of an Air Force veteran and grandson of a World War I vet, Steven Xiarhos raised more than $60,000 for local military families last July during the 10th annual motorcycle ride from Bourne to Yarmouth dubbed “Big Nick’s Ride for the Fallen.” The foundation also provided $32,000 in grants to local charities Feb. 12 in honor of Nick’s 32nd birthday.
In his retirement, Xiarhos is spearheading a program called “Food 4 Vets” in which he collects and distributes 100 donated or discounted cases of food to veterans in different towns six days a week. The proud Greek-American was delivering food in East Bridgewater Wednesday when he got a call from Houff, who happens to drive a car sponsored by Good Greek Moving & Storage.
"He was just my age, so it was really relatable and empowering to hear stories about what he did for everyone around him, and how much he cared for other people,” Houff said.