Town Mourns a Hero

by Lynne Ober

Adorned with her husband’s medals, Katrina Gionet, center, clutches the flag that had draped Dan Gionet’s casket. Standing to her left is Dan’s sister, Alycia.

Following the memorial service at St. Patrick’s Church, Honor Guard members transport Pelham’s fallen hero, Dan Gionet, to his final resting place in Gibson Cemetery, Pelham.

Long before he signed up for his second tour of duty with the Army, Dan Gionet was recognized in Pelham as a role model.  He was the kind of young man that everyone wants their own children to be like – he was likable; he put others first; he was an acknowledged team player; and he proudly served his country.

After his first tour of duty ended in Afghanistan, he was eligible to get out of the Army, but decided to sign for another tour so that he could train as a medic and help others. 

He was on a patrol with his unit in Iraq when an IED [improvised explosive device] exploded and destroyed the tank he was riding in.  Gionet suffered life-ending injuries, but ignored them so that he could tend the wounded men in his unit.  He was so worried about his lieutenant that when a fellow soldier offered to treat Gionet’s wounds, Gionet told him to look after the lieutenant.

During the memorial service Reverend Robert Guillemette of St. Patricks’ Church in Pelham recalled Gionet’s words, “Don’t deal with me.  Go help the lieutenant.  He’s in greater danger than me.”

Guillemette said, “The story ends with that.  His life ended.  There is no greater love than when you lay down your life for another.”

In memory of Dan Gionet, the Pelham Fire Department gave a sky-high treatment to the flag, which was erected from opposing ladder trucks on Common Street.

And all of Pelham agreed.  Friday morning June 19 started with teachers briefing students on the life of Gionet and how each of them would honor the fallen hero.  At 9:45 students from all three Pelham schools began quietly filing out of their schools and lining Marsh Road.  Parents arrived to join the students.  Flags were handed out.

Superintendent Dr. Elaine Cutler joined the high school students.  “It was so quiet that you thought you were standing alone on the street, but you were surrounded by students and adults.”

Flags in hand, students, staff, parents, and others who joined them silently waited for the funeral procession to pass and when it did, it slowly drove between two long lines of Pelham students and residents.

At the church Gionet was accorded the honors of a fallen hero.  His comrades respectfully carried his flag draped coffin into St. Patrick’s Church. 

After the singing of Amazing Grace, Guillemette said, “Amazing is God’s grace.  God has journeyed with Dan to a wonderful place – heaven.”

Pelham Selectman Ed Gleason read two passages from the scriptures.  The first one was familiar to all, “…A time to be born, A time to die …”  The second was from the Letter of Paul to the Romans, “None of us lives for ourselves …”

Gionet was one of those people who touched others in a positive way – no matter where he was.  “He was just an awesome kid,” said School Board member Bruce Couture.

Governor John Lynch referred to Gionet as a hero from New Hampshire who will never be forgotten.

During a lengthy, heartfelt eulogy, former Pelham High School Baseball Coach Joe Connors recounted an ongoing exchange that he and Gionet typically had.  Connors said that Gionet had not been a starter on the baseball team because he was the back-up to one of the school’s all-time best catchers.  And yet, he was a consummate team player, giving 100 percent at every practice.  At the end of every game, Gionet would tell the coach, “If I was on their team I would have started today.”  Connors would then nod in agreement.  Gionet may have been disappointed about not playing more, but, according to Connors, he never complained.

Governor John Lynch consoles Dan’s sister, Alycia, outside St. Patrick’s Church.

Calling him a “selfless soldier” many times throughout the eulogy, Connors emphasized that Gionet exemplified this designation in every facet of his life.  He gave his all whether he was on the baseball field, in the classroom or at home with family and friends.  This selflessness continued when he joined the military.

No surprise then that in his senior year at Pelham High School, Gionet earned the school’s Athlete of the Year award because he represented the best of Pelham on and off the field, Connors remembered. This award was decided on collaboratively by all the school’s coaches.

Gionet’s positive attitude continued after high school.  The “selfless soldier” never lost his caring ways or his firm sense of what was important in life.  Always an encouraging influence, he made lifelong friends wherever he went.

Alycia Gionet, Dan’s younger sister, struggled to say a few words about her brother during a brief eulogy following Coach Conners’.  Of course, the typical brother-and-sister banter and annoying exchanges were commonplace between the two of them growing up, she said.  But she recalled crying long and hard on the day Dan told her he had joined the Army.  He left her with poignant words: “Pledge allegiance to the flag, but remember to pledge allegiance to yourself too.”  He encouraged her to follow her dreams as he was doing.  She left the altar in tears and was immediately surrounded by her family who hugged and comforted her.  Alycia was scheduled to graduate from Pelham High School that night.

Sergeant Jeff Hurell, who met Gionet at Fort Hood, traveled to Pelham for the funeral to honor his friend.  When the casket left the church, Hurell followed it and then stood at attention while it was loaded into the hearse for Gionet’s last ride.  Tears streamed down Hurell’s face as he watched his friend start his final journey.

Katrina Gionet, wife of Dan Gionet, was comforted by family and friends.  She had his purple heart and bronze medal pinned to the shoulder of her dress. 

Although Dan Gionet is gone, memories of him will live on.  And, most likely, those thoughts of Dan Gionet will be happy ones of a young man with a smile on his face.  Prompting loved ones at the service to close their eyes and picture Dan, Coach Conners then asked the question, “He’s smiling, isn’t he?”  To everyone there, the answer was obvious.

Dan Gionet was a ‘Selfless Soldier’ Long before He Joined the Army 

Editor’s note:  The following eulogy was given by Pelham Baseball Coach Joe Connors at Dan Gionet’s memorial service on June 16 at St. Patrick’s Church.

Pelham High School Baseball Coach Joe Connors gives a moving tribute.

Dan Gionet was a selfless soldier, and not just in the Army, but in the way he lived his life.

I’d like to start by asking everyone here in this church who knew Danny personally to please close their eyes … and picture Dan’s face for just ten seconds; not from those military pictures that we’ve been looking at the past few days, but from your personal interactions with him …

He’s smiling, isn’t he?

Dan had the ability to bring a smile to everyone’s face, because of the way he was, and smiles are contagious, and he always had one …

Dan Gionet was a selfless soldier.

My name is Joe Connors, and I was Dan’s varsity baseball coach at Pelham High School, and I’ve never in my life been as humbled or scared in my life as when I was asked to stand up here and speak of Dan’s life as I knew him.

I’ve received all kinds of calls from the press over that past few weeks, and they were looking for a story about Dan and baseball.

They wanted to know if Dan was a ‘first team all-state player.’ 

He wasn’t.

“Did you win any championships with Dan?”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Then what can you tell me about Dan?  Is there anything that made Dan special?”

“Yes, I can tell you a lot about Dan …”

Over Dan’s junior and senior years combined, Dan played a total of ten innings.

He had the misfortune, if you can call it that, of catching behind one of the best catchers we’ve ever had at Pelham, and he just happened to be in the same grade.  But that never bothered Dan … or if it did, he never let on.

Danny was just happy to be part of the team, and to be out there every day, working and practicing with his friends doing something that he loved. 

But he was not one of those kids or people who just hang around. 

He was a worker, and we were a better team because he was with us. 

We had a record of 33 and 3 over the time that Dan was a member of those teams.

Dan Gionet was a selfless soldier.

It’s funny … just this past Wednesday night we had the Pelham High School’s spring awards night at the high school.  And again this year, as every year, there are always coaches who get up to speak, in praise of a particular individual, or in praise of their team, and will make comments like,

“He tried hard all the time …”

Or … “He never gave up …”

Or … “He never complained …”

Among others …

And that always makes me grin a bit … because I like to believe that those qualities should always be present in every athlete … almost taken for granted … and I like to think that every one of my boys do that all the time.

But, unfortunately, that is not always the case …

But for Dan, it was never an issue …

From Danny, you got 100 percent, every minute of every day, on and off the field, and then some, even when he knew that he wasn’t going to be playing the next day.

Dan Gionet was a selfless soldier.

Dan and I had a running joke … after almost every game we played in those years, when the game was over, Dan would say to me, “You know, if I was on their team, I would have started today.”

And he would have …

Dan played football for Coach Babaian and wrestled for Coaches McDonald and Fuller, but those were two sports in which Dan was almost too nice to play. 

Coach Fuller told me a story the other night of when Dan had thrown a hard cross-face on an opponent, and the referee had to stop the match for the moment, and Dan did all he could do to apologize for hurting his opponent, which is something you just don’t do in wrestling. 

Before his last match ever on the wrestling team, Coach McDonald challenged Dan to “Go out there and leave it all on the mat, win or lose.” 

Dan finally did, leaving that mat a winner, having to be virtually carried off that mat, because he was physically and emotionally spent, and that’s what Dan gave everybody.  He gave it his all, to the point where he had to be carried off. 

In preparation for this eulogy, I contacted every teacher and coach that I could think of that had a relationship with Danny.  And everyone, to a person, had the same comment …

No one had that catchy anecdote …

Or that funny story …

But everyone, you could see it in their eyes, sincerely said that Dan Gionet was just an awesome human being, a giver … the first one to take a new kid under his wing, or to push his teammates to be the best that they could be …

In other words, he was a selfless soldier.

Mrs. Metz told me that Dan was the rare kid, who, when he came back to visit, would seek her out just to say, “Hi” … nothing more … just to say, “Hi”… but he took the time to do it.

I remember walking into the café one day after Dan had graduated and he was helping the wrestling team, and I didn’t know he was in there …

I got tapped on the shoulder and turned around and got bear-hugged so hard that I couldn’t breathe … but when he stepped back to let me see who it was, there was Danny … laughing at me … and there are a lot of people in this room who know what those bear-hugs felt like …  He wasn’t one for wimpy hugs, was he?

To finish off his high school career, Dan was presented with the yearly Sportsmanship Award, voted by all of the coaches from all of the seasons at Pelham High School.

The criteria for that award is this … The question we ask ourselves is …

“What athlete in the entire senior class would be the best representative of Pelham High School and the town of Pelham, on and off the playing field, to represent us to someone who doesn’t know what we’re all about?”

The answer that year was easy … Dan Gionet.

Dan enlisted in the Army in 2001, and was proud of his service, and was serving his second tour of duty when this tragedy struck.  During that time, he met and married the love of his life, a lady I’ve gotten to know over the past week, his beautiful wife, Katrina.  They had their lives planned out.  Everything was set …

Then, on June 4, 2006, a mine rocked the tank in which he was riding, leading to havoc and bloodshed …

Sergeant Dan Gionet, who was a medic, although mortally wounded, helped rescue his comrades from that crippled tank, and administered first aid to them until he couldn’t physically do it anymore …

He then directed other medics, once they arrived on the scene, to take care of the other guys first …   “I’m ok,” he said.

But he wasn’t OK, and Dan died that day in the Iraq desert, making sure that his buddies lived and were taken care of first.  Once again, he was consistent.  Dan gave his all …

Dan Gionet, the Selfless Soldier.

Danny, you were our friend, our confidant, our brother, our son, our grandson, our nephew, and our teammate … and you are our hero, and that was a long time before you gave your life to save others in Iraq.

I’d ask everyone here to never take anyone in your lives for granted, because Danny never did.  Those who know him know what I mean …  Never be afraid go tell those who you love that you love them.  Use those words.  Don’t be afraid of them.  Dan did it every day with his words and actions.  Let that be Danny’s legacy.

Dan Gionet, your country owes you a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid for making what the military calls the ultimate sacrifice.

But all of us here owe you, our selfless soldier, a debt of gratitude which we can never repay for allowing us to be part of your life … and for enriching ours as you did.

We love you, sir, and you’ll never be forgotten.

Pelham High School Graduation

by Lynne Ober

2006 Pelham High School Graduating Class.

Meghan Lamontagne School Council Representative receives her diploma.

Francis Hojlo Valedictorian gives his speech.

Families chatted under the last rays of sunshine while waiting for Pelham High School Graduation to begin.  It is both a time of celebration and a time of reflection.  The joy of graduating is tinged with the sadness of leaving friends and familiar surroundings behind.  For 12 years the Class of 2006 has gone to school and most have been together since grade school.  Now they will go their separate ways, but first it was time for one last celebration.

With the Faculty Brass Quintet playing Huldigungsmarch, graduates, staff, and dignitaries marched onto the field and took their places.  Their blue and white gowns gleamed in the sunshine.

After the colors were presented, Principal, Dr. Dorothy Mohr, asked the audience for a moment of silence to remember Pelham resident and Pelham High School graduate, Dan Gionet, who had been buried that morning.  “We need to remember that he gave his life for us,” said Mohr.

Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek stepped to the stage and made a special presentation to the Class of 2006.  He read and presented a proclamation lauding their achievements.  Class President Shaun Doherty accepted on behalf of the whole class.

Both Principal Mohr and Superintendent Dr. Elaine Cutler offered encouragement and congratulations in their speeches.

Mohr complimented the students for learning to stand alone with a sense of self.  She recalled activities that they had enjoyed and struggled with during their four years at Pelham High School.  Finally she told them to thank their parents and reminded them that they parents’ job had been to raise them.  “Tonight they are going home unemployed.  Remember to thank them.  Give them a hug.”

Cutler said she knew this class would make a difference in the future and urged them to never stop learning as they moved on. 

Dan MacDonald during the National Anthem.

When Class President, Shaun Doherty, took the stand he acknowledged, “Today is our last day together as a class, the last day we are here at Pelham High School and the day we are cut loose and on our own in what they call the real world.”  He urged his fellow classmates to continue to participate in their communities, to be a volunteer, and most importantly, to remember to vote.

Class Essayist, Lingyan Chen, recalled memories of high school.  She talked about what they had learned and what they had achieved.  But she also talked about needing to thank all the people who had helped the Class of 2006.  “Take a look into the audience.  There are so many people to be thankful for.”

Rachel Pereira, Salutatorian, accepts her diploma.

Salutatorian Rachel Pereira wrote a poem to commemorate the Class of 2006’s years at PHS.  It concluded:

“Our high school days have ended,
but take all that you’ve learned here
to continue down your chosen path
and step forward without fear

So now the time has come forth
To end this speech with elation
And say, Class of Two Thousand Six
Good luck and congratulation.”

Valedictorian, Frank Hojlo, looked back and forward.  “We have learned to be dedicated and committed, to enjoy whatever it is we do, and to be passionate in assuring the effort we put forth is nothing less than our best.  It is now our task to continue to seek success in the future.”

Head of Guidance, Kathryn Sheridan, presented awards to the graduation seniors before it was time to cross the stage and receive diplomas, presented by School Board Chairman Mike Conrad and School Board Vice Chairman Cindy Kyzer.

Once the tassels were moved from one side of their caps to the other and the Jazz Crusaders performed the recessional, the Class of 2006 was ready to move into the future.

James Farris Class Representative.

Shaun Doherty Class President.

Round 'Em Up at the Bike Rodeo

by Diane Chubb

Rounding up kids for the annual Bike Rodeo at Pelham Elementary School is never a problem.  This is one educational event you don’t have to drag the kids to – it’s fun.

Samantha Liardo is happy that the rain has stopped so she can ride her new bike. 

This is the fifth year that Detective Anne Perriello has run the bike rodeo.  On June 17 kids had the opportunity to ride their bikes around an obstacle course and learn about bike safety.  Perriello said that 100 helmets and 200 T-shirts were given to kids who participated in the event. 

Much of the Pelham Police Department was on hand to talk to members of the public.  All of the members of the Pelham Police Department who participate do so on a volunteer basis – no overtime is paid.  The Army had representatives who led children through various games, including tossing a football at a target.  “They are busy protecting us; it is important for the kids to see them in a positive light,” said Perriello.

Local businesses and townspeople also came out in support of the event.  Pelham resident Charlie Beaulieu was on hand with his collection of classic cars.  “My hats go off to the officers who do this for the safety of the kids,” he said. 

Even the Pelham~Windham News got involved by running a coloring contest for various age groups.  The picture featured characters promoting bike safety by wearing helmets.  Twelve kids were randomly selected to receive Area News Group T-shirts as prizes.  Amazingly, two brother/sister teams were among the winners.

Inside the school cafeteria, members of the Pulpit Rock Lodge, who are part of the New Hampshire Freemasons, sponsored a Child Identification Program event.  Parents could bring their children in to be videotaped, fingerprinted and “toothprinted,” which involves getting a child's bite prints.  All of these tools assist in finding missing children.  At least 100 children were registered during the Bike Rodeo. 

Kids were able to jump in a moon bounce and slide down a large inflatable slide.  There were hot dogs and drinks available.  Representatives from the Animal Rescue League brought some of their beautiful greyhounds for some attention, and kids could pet two miniature horses. 

The afternoon culminated with the arrival of the Boston Med Flight helicopter, which landed on the field behind Pelham Memorial School.  Children eagerly lined up and raced to the helicopter for a closer look. 

Detective Perriello was pleased with the turnout, calling it “pretty impressive.”  She thanked everyone who volunteered and attended, but especially wanted to thank some of the volunteers who help year after year, such as Jim Nagel of Chunky's, representatives from the Army, and new this year, Woody's Auto.  “Innovative Realty consistently reaches out to us, year after year, to make sure that this event takes place.”  Innovative Realty was running a bike raffle during the rodeo. 

Remember that state law requires children to wear a helmet when riding their bikes on public roads. 

The winners were:

Age 1 – 3: Joey, age 1 Age 7 – 9: Allyson, age 7
Jessica, age 1 Alyssa, age 7
Clayton, age 3 Patrick, age 8
Age 4 – 6: Zachary, age 4 Age 10 – 12: Shelby, age 10
Terryn, age 6 Gabe, age 12
Connor, age 6 Xiomarah, age 12

Allison Muller, Shelby Bedard and Clayton Hansford win T-shirts in the coloring contest.

Special Town Meeting Set

by Barbara Jester

Windham Selectmen have set the dates for a special town meeting to be held later this summer.  The deliberative session is slated for Tuesday, July 11 at 7:00 p.m.  The official ballot voting session is scheduled for Thursday, August 10.  Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Both sessions will be held at Golden Brook School.

During their Monday, June 19 meeting, selectmen voted unanimously to go forward with a request from school board members in regard to a lot line adjustment involving the pending construction of Windham High School.  The construction project was approved by voters in March of 2005 in the amount of $43 million.

The need for a special town meeting came about as the result of a discrepancy in a survey contracted by school board members in the spring of 2005.  It was learned later, as the result of another survey, that a portion of the land thought to be owned by the school district is actually town-owned.  As a result, school board members are asking voters to convey these two parcels to school district ownership.  According to school board chairman Bruce Anderson, if the parcels are not transferred to school district ownership, serious hardship will result in building the new school as planned.  Anderson said the plans for Windham High School are already about 90 percent complete.  The total property involved in the issue is approximately 7 1/2 acres.

Copies of the plans are on display in the Windham Town Offices, the Windham Planning Department, and the Windham School District Offices.

Following the selectmen's vote to schedule the special town meeting, Anderson's comment to board members was, "Thank you.  Thank you all."

Two other warrant articles will also be on the agenda for the two-part meeting.  The first pertains to the potential establishment of a water system to be developed on town-owned property in an area off Fellows Road, situated within the Village Center District.  The final warrant article asks voters to discontinue a portion of Bissell Camp Road, running northerly at its intersection with Route 28 and southerly to a point near Flat Rock Road.  Bisssell Camp Road was discontinued subject to gates and bars at a town meeting held in March of 1979.

Three New Roads

by Barbara Jester

Windham Selectmen have decided to name three new roads in town and send other suggestions back to the developers for reconsideration.

During the selectmen's meeting on Monday, June 19, members voted unanimously to name three roads in Clark Farm Estates as follows:  Clark Farm Road, Buckhide Road, and Black Powder Road.  Selectperson Margaret Crisler said these names all have historical significance to the Town of Windham.  Selectmen decided to reject the suggested names of Baxter and Scotland Roads.

In the Castle Reach sub-division, developers asked selectmen to approve the name of Brewster Way.  Noting Brewster's lack of local historical significance, the decision was delayed and the issue was sent back to the Highway Safety Committee and developers.  Members of the Windham Historical District/Heritage Commission suggested the names Waldren or Bahan Roads.

A decision on a new road in Topshill Estates was also referred back to the Highway Safety Committee.  Developers wanted to use Wellington Road, but selectmen said they could find no historically relevant reason for the name.  Heritage Commission members suggested Cutting, Porcupine or Deerledge Road.  Deerledge Road was ruled out, however, due to a similarity to other town roads.  Selectmen said the similarity could cause problems with emergency services if the names were confused.

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