Veteran who lost friends in Iraq knows all too well the meaning of Memorial Day

By Ethan Hartley
Posted 5/28/24

"As we ducked our heads inside that aircraft, it would be the last time for some of those marines to see home.”

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Veteran who lost friends in Iraq knows all too well the meaning of Memorial Day


While the physical toll of war can be seen in the scars, missing limbs, and mobility-based disabilities of its survivors, it is the psychological toll that often provides the most emotionally stirring moments during Memorial Day observances. Monday morning, during Warren’s annual commemorative event at the Town Common, provided just such an example.

“Twenty years ago today, a bunch of my friends, fellow Marines, got on a plane and went to Iraq,” said keynote speaker Josh Chiarini, USN Ret. (EMT-C), a Silver Star recipient who served three combat tours in one of the deadliest areas of Iraq assigned as a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Hospital Corpsman. “As we were walking up that tarmac and climbing into that aircraft, we took one last look at America. As we ducked our heads inside that aircraft, it would be the last time for some of those marines to see home.”

Chiarini, who has been a firefighter in North Providence for the past 12 years, knows all too well the unforgiving chaos that defines being in a war zone.

He lost one fellow soldier, 22-year-old Lance Corporal Dustin Fitzgerald, to a non-combat incident on Aug. 18, 2004 when his Humvee fell into a canal after the road he was traveling on collapsed from underneath him. Nearly two decades later, the loss remains fresh for Chiarini, who had to pause multiple times to regain his composure while speaking in honor of his lost friends.

“Just before we deployed he had gotten his dream car; a 1997 Mitsubishi Eclipse…He loved that thing,” Chiarini said. “And we would sit in the fighting hole in Iraq at night, in between gunfights and firefights and IEDs and everything else, and we would talk about these cars, spending all our deployment money on building these cars, and then he ended up giving his life on that day.”

The death of another squad mate, Sgt. Jayton Patterson, provided grisly context on the shockwaves of grief that emanate outwards following the death of a soldier in a combat zone. Chiarini explained that they had been in Iraq for about seven months as of Jan. 15, 2005, which would be the last day of 26-year-old Sgt. Patterson’s life.

“We had two weeks left in country. We were talking about going home and seeing our families. He was going to see his 15-month-old daughter and see his wife and go back to regular life here in America,” Chiarini said. “But we had a job to do, we were on patrol, and like a true leader and a marine, he was leading from the front…and as we were walking down the road in a staggered column on a day just like this, he stepped on an improvised explosive device.

“He saw it, he looked back at us, he either waved at us to stop or he waved goodbye. In a flash, he was gone.”

Chiarini also spoke of Lance Corporal Matthew K. Serio, a North Providence native who died on April 5, 2004 while fighting in Fallujah.

“We also memorialize today the ones left behind. The families of the fallen; the wives, the children, the mothers, brothers, sisters, and friends,” Chiarini continued. “Their sacrifice is not in vain. The strength and resilience that you show in the face of your loss is a testament to the enduring spirit of our nation.”

“Remember this today,” he concluded. “Our flag, as we see around this common, it does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each person who died to protect it.”

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