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More Than a Golf Tournament

We walked together out to the parking lot. And all I could do was put my arm around his shoulder, thank him again, and shake his hand warmly. We’d finally achieved a dream of his that we started over a year ago.He and I have since become brothers by circumstance.

Cpl. Michael Ouellette was killed in Afghanistan in April of 2009, a hero in particular to the Marines who served with him and who escaped the ambush that cost Michael his life. I was so inspired by his story that I went over to Manchester Airport to quietly honor him as his casket arrived home on a sunny spring afternoon. I also wrote an article about it. A month later, I received a call from a gentleman who had seen my piece and asked if I would help him put together a golf tournament in honor of his son.  He called it the NH Freedom Cup. His name was Len Ouellette. His son was Cpl. Michael Ouellette, USMC. How could I refuse?

Len worked tirelessly over the year to build this dream of his. He put together a dedicated team of people to help him. It started with a handful of volunteers and employees at the VA Medical Center in Manchester NH. People who understood the cause of veterans, of those who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, of their families. It included a handful of Marine Corps veterans, who long ago served their own time. People from veterans groups pitched in to help, particularly from the American Legion and the Blue Star Mothers. Others heard of the cause and fell in – more veterans, local business people, people who had kids serving, people with computer, marketing, and sales skills who just wanted to help this guy out. Because they believed in The Cause.

And what was The Cause? Simply to help veterans, those currently serving, and their families to get through any crisis they might be experiencing as a result of their service in the Middle East.  And to do so in honor of Michael Ouellette and those like him who died for our Country and will themselves never be able to take advantage of the services their memories have helped create.

Volunteers being what they are, we couldn’t always help all the time, me especially. Daily life just pulls us in many directions. So we chipped in when we could. But Len kept at it fulltime. And last week, at Candia Woods Golf Links, 124 golfers, dozens of sponsors, and a proud core of volunteers convened for the first annual Freedom Cup Golf Tournament. And it was a smashing success. It wasn’t just another golf tournament. It was a patriotic event. Under a cloudless summer sky – thanks you, Lord – the event opened with presentation of the colors by a Marine Corps color guard, singing of the National Anthem by 14-year old Elaine Weatherby, an invocation, and a few words of thanks. Flags from every military branch were planted along the cul de sac in front of the golf course. Participants were greeted by the stoic Patriot Riders, all veteran motorcyclists who will go to any event just to silently hold huge American flags in honor of the Fallen. Two giant yellow ribbons were wrapped around trees on the roadside, reminding people to honor our veterans.

The golfers were a mixture of typical patriotic Americans – veterans, business folks, cops, and firemen. Moms and dads. Young and old. Good golfers, hackers – and even some like me who wouldn’t touch a club for fear of hurting myself…or someone else. But we all believed in The Cause. And that’s what made for success. Every one of them signed a poster of the tournament for Len – the golfers, the waitresses, the volunteers, the sponsors, the color guard. A small momento of a huge event.
Oh, they golfed that day. And they enjoyed a great dinner, raffles, a silent auction. They spent their money for The Cause, as generous folks will do. At one point, they sporadically burst into God Bless America as they sat down to eat. We had a few moments where we were choked for words. Talking about Michael was tough. Len appreciated that. Talking about PJ, a young Marine who lost his life a few years ago was tough. His dad was golfing that day. Thoughts of Phil’s son, another young Marine who was medi-vac’d out of Afghanista just two days ago were still in my mind, as was the son of our “Wear Red on Friday” friends whose son just arrived in Afghanistan yesterday. They were all golfing. I thought of my own son, who is just waiting his turn to go and I smile every time I see my wife wearing her “I may not look tough, but I raised a US Marine” shirt.

But it wasn’t all Marine parents at this golf tournament. Far from it. Everyone there knew or had someone serving in the Army, National Guard, Air Force, Navy, or Coast Guard. Kids at risk, who are serving because they want to. That’s the America we believe in.
In the end, we raised a lot of money that day to help those whose lives have been scarred by this War on Terror. And we’ll raise even more next year, God willing. And the year after. I know Len won’t stop. He owes that much to his son. And we won’t stop either. Because if America even begins to forget why kids like that serve, then America is doomed. And I don’t think this country is that selfish, do you?

Joe Paradis is one of Londonderry’s most popular columnists and authors. Visit his web site at today and order his latest autographed book, “It’s Great to Be Alive!”