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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hundreds mourn ‘brave’ NH Marine

PETERBOROUGH – The emotions were raw and the air was heavy as John Garabrant looked out over the crowd of hundreds gathered to remember his son.

As Garabrant started speaking, his strong voice broke and tears flowed from his eyes. ...

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PETERBOROUGH – The emotions were raw and the air was heavy as John Garabrant looked out over the crowd of hundreds gathered to remember his son.

As Garabrant started speaking, his strong voice broke and tears flowed from his eyes.

He took a deep breath and soldiered on, with a supporting touch on his shoulder from family friend Scott Tracy, a New Hampshire State Police trooper.

With each word, Garabrant fought to keep it together, sharing memories of his son, the conversations they had and the overall pride he felt in the man his son had become.

Then Garabrant looked to a flag-draped, shining silver casket. At that moment, Garabrant talked directly to his son, Marine Cpl. Brandon J. Garabrant.

“I love you, and I’m proud of you,” the elder Garabrant said.

He then walked to the casket, stood in front of it and brushed his right hand against the flag, his head bowed.

Brandon Garabrant, 19, of Greenfield, was killed when the tank in which he was riding was hit by a roadside bomb in the southern Helman province of Afghanistan on June 20.

The bomb also killed Staff Sgt. David H. Stewart, 34, of Stafford, Va., and Lance Cpl. Adam R. Wolff, 25, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Garabrant, Stewart and Wolff were members of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

Roughly 1,000 people piled into the gymnasium at ConVal Regional High School on Saturday morning for a memorial service remembering Garabrant, a 2013 graduate of the school.

Among those in attendance were family, friends, members of local fire and ambulance departments, fellow Marines, veterans, former classmates, members of the ConVal football and hockey teams, members of the Jaffrey Bible Church Youth Ensemble, and people from surrounding communities and beyond.

Garabrant was a member of the Temple Volunteer Fire Department and the Jaffrey Bible Church, participating as a tenor in the youth ensemble.

He had also joined the Peterborough Fire Explorer Post and Peterborough Police Explorer Post as a young teenager.

At ConVal, he was a goalie for the boys varsity ice hockey team, and a member of the football and lacrosse teams.

“Brandon was a fantastic young man who was taken from us all too soon,” said Tracy, whose daughter once baby-sat Brandon and his younger siblings, Mykala and Jacob, while their parents were working.

Tracy said he was blessed to have been able to watch Garabrant grow from a young boy to a young man who was mature beyond his years.

Tracy said he’ll never forget how interested Garabrant was in his colorful uniform and shiny police car at their first meeting.

“I should have known at the time he was destined for public service,” Tracy said.

Brent M. Charles, who was pastor of Jaffrey Bible Church during much of Garabrant’s teenage years, said he was courageous in how he respected and cared for his family, friends, community, the U.S. Marine Corps and his faith.

“Brandon loved all of us with his service,” Charles said.

“He was a selfless young man, one of the most selfless young men I know.”

Tracy, Charles and others talked about Garabrant’s smile – a smile that never faded no matter how many times he fell on the ice while playing hockey or how many times his drill instructor called him out on it, Charles said.

“You were always glad to see Brandon,” Tracy said.

The lights in the gym were dimmed for the roughly 90-minute service. Next to Garabrant’s casket, which had been placed on a temporary stage, was his black and yellow turnout gear and helmet from the Temple Fire Department.

Behind the casket were U.S. and Marine flags standing against a black backdrop.

Two tribute videos were shown, one made by the New Hampshire Fire Academy highlighting Garabrant’s time as a first responder and another created by his mother, Jessie, and some of his friends.

Members of the Jaffrey Bible Church Youth Ensemble provided the music.

During the service, Marine officers presented Garabrant’s parents with a Purple Heart for the injuries he suffered June 20 and a proclamation promoting Garabrant to the position of corporal posthumously.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., spoke to Garabrant’s family, saying there is no question the world is a better and safer place because of him.

“We owe our freedom to Brandon and the brave men and women like him,” she said. “We will keep his memory in our hearts forever.”

Besides Ayotte, dignitaries attending the service included U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; U.S. Rep. Ann M. Kuster, D-N.H.; and Gov. Maggie Hassan.

At the end of the service, seven Marines solemnly carried Garabrant’s casket from the gym to a yellow Temple Fire Department.

Under a sunny sky and crisp breeze, the Marines and members of the Temple Fire Department carefully loaded the casket into the bed of the truck as bagpipes played in the background.

At the end of the driveway by the athletic fields, a large American flag flew from the top of the ladder on a Peterborough Fire Department truck.

The motorcade passed under the flag as it headed toward the intersection with Route 202.

There, hundreds of people gathered at all four corners holding signs and banners of support, and American flags.

Following the procession after it turned on to Route 202 on its way to the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, were members of the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group, at least 500 strong.

The group says it aims to ensure dignity and respect at the funerals of fallen military members, veterans and first responders.

The group’s New Hampshire chapter announced last week its members would attend the service.

The Westboro Baptist Church, an extremist group based in Kansas, also announced its members would protest the service, but no one showed up Saturday.

Andrew E. French, Christopher H. Boyce and Erik A. Leger were among a group of teammates and friends of Garabrant’s holding larger banners at the intersection.

One banner had Garabrant’s No. 33 hockey jersey attached to it, and the other had an excerpt from scripture, Joshua 1:9, which was tattooed on his back.

The three teenagers said they and others had come to honor Garabrant and protect his family.

They added that the No. 33 hockey jersey will be retired in Garabrant’s honor.