MEXICO – Love for their son, a Maine Army National Guard soldier stationed in Iraq, and the May 6 deaths of two other Maine soldiers in the same unit, led Joe and Marjorie Richard to erect a life-size replica of their boy at the end of their Highland Terrace driveway.
The couple then dubbed the 6-foot 4-inch tall, G.I. Joe-garbed mannequin “Sergeant Richard” after Sgt. Jarod Richard, 28, the youngest of their seven children and the only one to serve his country in a war.
In the replica’s white-gloved hands dangles an Army-green duffel bag for donations of DVD movies, foil-free chewing gum, and cat flea collars, all of which have been requested by soldiers in their son’s unit. Marjorie Richard is collecting the odd items and mailing them to her son for disbursement.
“Jarod said, Whatever you have to do, Ma, that makes you feel good or be happy, do it,'” Marjorie Richard said Tuesday about her overwhelming desire to support her son and his unit, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Maine Mountain Men.
A laminated button pinned to the chest of her son’s fatigues shows a photograph of Staff Sgt. Dale James Kelly Jr., 48, of Richmond, under the words, “Always in our hearts.”
Three weeks ago, Kelly and Staff Sgt. David Veverka, 25, a University of Maine student from Jamestown, Pa., were killed in a bomb attack, and a third, Pvt. Christopher Fraser, 19, of Windsor, was seriously injured. It was the worst single incident for a Maine Guard unit in Iraq.
It also deeply affected the Richards, because Kelly and Jarod Richard trained together in Vermont this winter before being sent in March to Iraq. It was Kelly’s second tour, Jarod Richard’s first.
“This man was quite a man,” Marjorie Richard said of Kelly.
“My son said he was a heck of a nice guy. The day he called us to tell us about Sgt. Kelly, he was crying, I was crying, and my husband had tears rolling down his face. When it hits home, it’s hard,” she said
The Richards had last seen Kelly and their son at the regiment’s base sendoff in Brewer before the soldiers left for Iraq. The family stayed all day and into the early morning hours.
“I had seen Kelly when they were leaving, and when he went by me, on the way out, he said, Don’t worry, I’ll look after your boy.’ He probably felt like a father to Jarod. He was just a caring, caring man,” Marjorie Richard said.
Attending Kelly’s wake on May 19 in Brunswick was what prompted the Richards to station a soldier likeness at the end of their driveway.
“Sgt. Kelly’s family said he didn’t want people to waste money on flowers for him, he wanted things for the men who were left behind. That’s a true soldier,” she said.
Richard then explained the requested donations.
“The DVDs can be new or used, but they must not be rated X or R, as those are not accepted in that country. Regarding the chewing gum, you can’t mail foil,” Marjorie Richard said.
But cat flea collars?
“It’s a strange request, I know, but that’s what they wanted,” she said.
The soldiers prefer the more effective cat flea collars to the bigger dog flea collars, wearing them around their necks, arms and legs, often joining two or more together.
“The fleas there are bad at this time of year. My boy’s arm come out of his (sleeping) bag one morning with hundreds of bites. He even got them on the soles of his feet. He says to me, Try putting your boots on with bites on your feet and walking all day,'” she said.