Fallen Combat Medic Nicholas Bernier Honored
The Exeter High School graduate died in Afghanistan in 2011.
The state of New Hampshire held a Medal of Honor ceremony at the Statehouse for the families of four soldiers who lost their lives overseas while serving in the U.S. military.
The families of Spc. Nicholas Bernier, Capt. Michael Chinburg, Capt. Gary Dillon, and Lance Cpl. Michael Geary all received the medals to recognize the sacrifices and difficulties that loved ones face after losing family members.
Bernier, a graduate of Exeter High School, was a combat medic who was killed in an attack in Afghanistan in 2011. He was 21 years old.
Chinburg, of Durham, was killed during a training mission in 1991 in Desert Storm when his F-16 crashed; Dillion, of Concord, was also killed during Desert Storm in 1991, when his helicopter disappeared during a training flight; Geary, of Derry, was killed in 2010, in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
After a ceremony that included the singing of the National Anthem and an invocation, both Gov. John Lynch and Brig. Gen. Carolyn Protzmann made statements about the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families.
Glen and Mary Dillion, as well as much of their extended family, were on hand for the service recognizing their son, Gary, who was a 1978 graduate of Concord High School. Nancy Dillion said that her son “loved being in the military and loved what he was doing.” Even though his death was so many years ago, they were grateful for the ceremony.
“It is difficult, because it was so long ago,” Nancy Dillon said. “You adjust to it and then, all of a sudden, it comes rushing back … but it’s a wonderful thing. People have been very kind. I think it is wonderful that people are recognizing the military people a lot more than they used to.”
For Ellen Chinburg, the event was “wonderful” but brought back many memories, since Protzmann was the one who came to her door to speak with her after Chinburg was lost overseas. She said, after she caught her breath after seeing Protzmann again, everything was OK.
“I have two sons with me here and his wife … and a grandson … I have a lot of grandchildren, so that helps,” she said.
While she’s adjusted to her son’s death that was so many years ago, events like this one “bring it all right back up again.” But, she added, her son was “a very funny guy” who loved his job.
“It’s been very moving,” she said, holding back tears.
The state medal of honor was signed into law by Lynch in 2007, after the bill was proposed by then-state Sen. Robert Letourneau, R-Derry.
“It was this guy’s idea,” Lynch said, pointing to Letourneau. “He initiated it, he made it happen … it was his perseverance that made it happen … including how to find out to pay for it.”
“There are always hurdles when you’re working on legislation,” Letourneau said. “We got through all of that … we made it happen.”
Letourneau and others “worked hard” on securing funding for the posthumous honor those families who had to incur as far back as the bombing of the Marine barracks in 1983.
“It goes to the families,” Letourneau said. “It’s for the people of New Hampshire to honor the family’s sacrifice.”
“It’s so they know that we care,” added Lynch, “so that they know that we will never forget.”
Ayotte knew the Dillons in the past. Her family purchased a cottage that they no longer own in Meredith from the family when she was growing up, around junior high age, she said. Ayotte said she meant Gary Dillon a number of times but didn’t know him that well because he was older.
“It’s very fitting that they received the honors,” Ayotte said. “We can never repay the debt that we have to them and their loved ones, for the sacrifices they’ve made for our country and it’s no doubt, for their heroism, we wouldn’t be a free country. It’s really humbling to be here with them.”