VAMC Manchester, New Hampshire
Gratitude and respect of service connects us
Under a beautiful sky of blue, the faces that lined the earth were filled with smiles and their eyes with tears. Memorial Day is a day set aside for our nation to mourn those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and to honor our Veterans who have passed. These are our heroes who fought to assure liberty and justice for all.
Every year, Manchester VA Medical Center holds a Memorial Day ceremony. For years and years, Sergeant First Class Randy Browning, U.S. Army (Ret.) has served as the medical center’s Officer of the Day at the event; the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office posts the colors and Manchester’s High School Bands alternate to lead our event’s opening ceremony with the National Anthem. This year, the West High School Marching Band presented patriotic selection for the ceremony.
Our Memorial Day program brings out the community in every sense of the word. Manchester VA staff and volunteers come together to ensure every detail is tended to, and leaders from across the state join us to pause and remember. Importantly, the ceremony allows the loved ones of our heroes and the community at large an opportunity to mourn with the comfort and extended family Veterans experience at the medical center. This year, Senator Hassan, Congressman Pappas and Mayor Craig joined our staff to offer their support and comfort to those in attendance.
“Today, I stand alongside you with a heavy heart, but also with deep gratitude for the service of all – especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and their loved ones. Our shared grief, gratitude and respect of service connects us,” said Alfred Montoya, Jr., medical center director, Manchester VA Medical Center.
The connection that Mr. Montoya spoke of was palpable. Unspoken and unbroken, that connection helps us to know it will be okay, if not today then someday. The connection empowered those attending the program to be vulnerable and offer warm smiles to one another as we wiped away tears and remembered.
“He was my best friend”
At the close of the ceremony, guests offered hugs to console one another and murmured conversation for reflection. One woman, however was sitting alone, long after the crowd dispersed. Just as each Veteran has their own “story”, the loss of her father is significant to share.
After a moment, Lisa deLongchamp said quietly, “He was my best friend.”
Memorial Day would have been Roger deLongchamp’s 86 birthday. He served as a United States Marine from 1953-55, then went on to serve in the Army from 1955-67 and was in the reserves from 1957 – 62.
Roger’s beautiful daughters, Lise and Michelle deLongchamp attended the ceremony to celebrate his life. Lise is a nurse and personally delivered her father’s hospice care. She reflected on the comfort it gave her to care for her dad during his last days.
Lise’s sister, Michelle, added how good natured their dad was, and the funny things that meant so much in his last days. “He wanted a cream puff,” she remembered laughing. The two sisters chuckled about running out to get the ice cream flavor of the day their dad mentioned he may want a taste of.
Lise reflected on her dad’s first visit to the Manchester VA. “Who is that physiatrist? Oh- yes, Dr. Kois. Other doctors might have asked, ‘How is your bladder’ or ‘what is troubling you today?’. Dr. Kois was special. During the first conversation he had with my dad, Dr. Kois asked, ‘What is important to you?’ He knew how to make my dad smile and how to make him remember.”
Lise shared her dad was a master gardener and even had a daylily named after him, the Roger deLongchamp Daylily. She was impressed that Dr. Kois had really taken the time to understand her dad. “He had even asked to see pictures of the daylily named after him.”
Roger’s love of gardening found him with dear friends. Lise and Michelle referred to these friends as his “Daylily Friends.” They shared that they wouldn’t have known many things about their dad and his service to our country if it wasn’t for these special friends.
During the Memorial Day Ceremony, Mr. Montoya shared the saying; it is said that we each die two deaths, the first when breath leaves us for the last time and the second, the last time someone speaks our name or tells our story. Let’s make sure we continue to tell the stories of all our nation’s heroes. Sharing their stories of service and a life well-lived respects the sacrifice they made on our behalf and ensures their legacy lives on.