ST. JOHNSBURY, VT, USA U.S. Army 2LT, TROOP C, 1ST BATTALION, 7TH ARMOR, 1CD, FORT HOOD, TX MUHALLAH, IRAQ 08/23/2009
Hundreds of people gathered Monday in St. Johnsbury to mourn a soldier killed in Iraq whose father said wasn’t afraid to die. The 22-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Fortin was the only American soldier to die in a roadside bomb explosion near Baghdad on Aug. 23. Other soldiers wounded in the same incident continued to recover Monday.
Martin Fortin said that’s the way his son would have wanted it. He said his son believed it would have been worse if those serving under him were to be injured or killed because he gave an incorrect order.
“Never ever forget. Joey knowingly and willingly put his life between all of you and the evil men who mean our country ill,” said Captain Brandon Dawalt, the soldier’s commander.
About 700 people attended the soldier’s funeral in the gymnasium of the St. Johnsbury Academy, where he graduated in 2004.
“The outpouring of love and grief is a testament to his young, powerful life,” St. Johnsbury Academy headmaster Tom Lovett said.
Captain Derek Droiun said Joseph Fortin also worked to improve the lives of Iraqis by providing specialized training to farmers and bringing electricity and water to communities.
“Many Iraqi people did not know that he helped double the amount of drinking water to 800,000 people,” he said.
“He just loved helping,” said Jamie Marshall, a friend. “It wasn’t about himself, but others.”
Speaking last, Joseph Fortin’s parents, Martin and Betsy, said their son’s death was as he would have wanted it — since the lives of the other men in his vehicle were spared. He was the only one to die. Yellow ribbons have been hung all over St. Johnsbury. The governor has asked that flags across the state be lowered and kept that way for the next two days in Joseph Fortin’s memory. Friends and neighbors described Fortin as a great guy who everyone liked and respected. They said it meant a lot to see so many people come out in support.
“It’s a great tribute and a great honor to him, and he so deserves it,” said Nancy Poulos, a longtime family friend and neighbor. “The family so deserves it. They’re a wonderful family, they’re a very close family, and he’s definitely a fallen hero (who) deserves that tribute.”
Teachers said Fortin tried his best at everything he did. Fortin never discussed being a soldier in high school, but the headmaster wasn’t surprised when he joined the Army.
Fortin was on the varsity baseball team his junior and senior years, and also helped with a summer baseball camp for young children during the summer of 2003.
“He was the epitome of character,” said coach Peter Wright. “He would do the right thing. He behaved himself, he followed the rules, he was very respectful. He liked people, he was willing to help people.”
“He often talked about serving others,” said Lovett, “and serving something bigger than himself.”
Martin Fortin said – “He always wanted to be a hero. After 22 years, his wish came true.”