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‘You celebrate his memory’

10-year anniversary of soldier’s death nears

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Kathy Belanger at the end of her street, Wapping Rd in Deerfield, next to the memorial for her son, Greg Belanger, who was killed in action.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Kathy Belanger at the end of her street, Wapping Rd in Deerfield, next to the memorial for her son, Greg Belanger, who was killed in action.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Kathy Belanger at the end of her street, Wapping Rd in Deerfield, next to the memorial for her son, Greg Belanger, who was killed in action.  The heart shape was on the left side of the stone when it was delivered.

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Kathy Belanger at the end of her street, Wapping Rd in Deerfield, next to the memorial for her son, Greg Belanger, who was killed in action. The heart shape was on the left side of the stone when it was delivered.

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Kathy Belanger at the end of her street, Wapping Rd in Deerfield, next to the memorial for her son, Greg Belanger, who was killed in action.
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Kathy Belanger at the end of her street, Wapping Rd in Deerfield, next to the memorial for her son, Greg Belanger, who was killed in action.  The heart shape was on the left side of the stone when it was delivered.

DEERFIELD — At the bottom of Wapping Road, an American flag flutters above stone arches resting across a newly planted bed of shrubs and trees. A few feet in front, a second flag sways in the cool spring air above the word “freedom” and a picture of a South Deerfield man who gave his life for the country 10 years ago.

Aug. 27 will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Army Sgt. Gregory Belanger, the first Franklin County soldier killed in Iraq.

On Aug. 27, 2003, Belanger was with the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion attached to the 94th Regional Readiness Command when a roadside bomb was detonated next to the Humvee he was driving. His body now rests in the quiet Laurel Lane cemetery.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., at Wapping Road, a plague will be donated in Belanger’s honor with the inscription, “Valor grows by daring, fear by holding back.”

It will be donated by Charles Dwayne Hall of Weber City, Va., an Army buddy of Belanger’s.

Hall served in the 10th 32nd Transportation Company of the Virginia Army National Guard based in Balad, Iraq.

When the roadside bomb was detonated near Belanger’s vehicle, Hall’s truck was 200 meters away. The explosion happened seconds from Hall, who was the third person to reach Belanger aside from his fellow soldiers in the vehicle, Stephen Ross and Christopher Woodland.

In April 2010, he reached out to Kathleen Belanger in a letter telling her that her son was a true American hero who volunteered to be on the convoy in place of another soldier on the day he died. He was a hero that Hall would always remember.

In preparation of Tuesday’s ceremony, five prisoners participating in the Franklin County Jail pre-release program spent a week cleaning up the property at Wapping Road, planting new shrubbery and mulch on 14 yards.

“It’s beautiful,” Kathleen Belanger, Gregory’s mother, said. “All five of them gave 110 percent. They felt good about what they had done.”

It may be that Belanger inherited his courage and strength from his mother, a 20-year veteran emergency medical technician for Deerfield.

Kathleen Belanger has become well-known throughout the community as the strong mother who continues to fight for her son and every American child serving in the military.

“You have a choice,” Belanger said. “You can let something like this either destroy you or you can rise above it. You can celebrate his memory. You honor him. You live.”

The pain of losing her son never goes away, Belanger said. But she learns to deal with it.

Over the past 10 years, Belanger has turned the memory of her friendly, mischievous son into a lasting legacy for her family. Belanger has become a vocal advocate of veterans’ rights.

Every year she has held a benefit in her son’s memory to raise money for student scholarships and the American flags lining Sugarloaf Street at the Polish Club of South Deerfield.

“It helped making sense of his death and that his death wouldn’t be for naught,” she said.

From a backyard party to a yearly anticipated event at the Polish Club, the Belanger benefit has grown tremendously.

Belanger has raised about $50,000 in 10 years and has offered different raffle prizes from Boston Red Sox tickets to gift certificates from the Deerfield Inn and Old Deerfield Country Store.

Last July, she donated $2,000 to the town’s American flag fund in memory of her son. The donation allowed the town to replace the 99 flags that hang along the Memorial Day parade route from the week before the parade to July 4.

Part of Belanger’s message is to not forget the soldiers fighting abroad or their families at home.

“The main issue is to help take care of veterans and their families,” Belanger said. “Care should be given to all military. Unless you’ve walked in their shoes, I don’t think any person really understands what it is like to go to war, lose a buddy and return home and live with your own memories.”

Belanger gives much credit to her Deerfield neighbors.

“The town has embraced Belanger’s memory. The townspeople make sure his legacy goes on. They have a big heart. I wouldn’t be able to do it without their support,” Belanger said. “When things got bad for me, the town took care of me.”

Belanger will continue to fight for veterans causes and to raise money for as long as she can.

“The goal is to keep trying to educate people,” Belanger said. “We need to take care of those who come home from the war.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
kmckiernan@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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