28 August 2009

Justin Pellerin’s family remembers fallen soldier

Via The Keene Sentinel

Last week, Melissa Farmer got a phone call from her son in Afghanistan.

He didn’t talk much about war. Instead, plans were spinning in Justin Pellerin’s head: When he got home, should he be a state trooper or a police officer? Or would he go to college, maybe become a physical trainer?

Pellerin, an Army infantryman from Concord, was killed Thursday by an improvised explosive device in the Wardak province of Afghanistan.

He was 21. His wife of a little more than a year, Chelsey Pellerin, turned 21 last week.

“You just assume it’s not going to happen to you,” Farmer said Saturday, sitting at her kitchen table in Concord next to her husband, Dale, her siblings and her mother. “He was so tough — that’s what we held onto.”

Pellerin was deployed in January and was due home in December. Military officials Saturday confirmed his death and said an IED had exploded near his vehicle, but said they could not yet provide further details about the incident.

He is the 30th soldier from New Hampshire killed in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002. The principal at Concord High, Gene Connelly, said he believes Pellerin is the school’s only graduate to die in either conflict.

“I’m just heartbroken for (Chelsey), and for his family and friends,” Connelly said. “It’s just — he’s so young.”

Pellerin, who grew up in Concord and has sisters ages 14 and 9, was “always around a whole bunch of kids,” Melissa Farmer said. A camera ham who enjoyed attention, he’d do impassioned Enrique Iglesias impressions while singing karaoke, his family members recalled. A competitive guy, he liked being tough; if he got hurt, he’d show off his scars.

He was smart, but he grew disinterested in school, Farmer said, and he began talking to military recruiters when he was 16. He graduated through an alternative diploma program with the intention of joining the Army.

“He was really looking for some direction, and he knew he could do good things in the service,” Farmer said. “And he ended up being really good at what he did.”

Her son was proud of that, she said. “Of course, we were really proud of him, too.”

Chelsey Pellerin, who met Justin near the start of high school, said a number of their friends had talked about joining the military. But they talked about joining for mechanics, she said, and she was taken aback when Justin enlisted in the Army as an infantryman.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to kill him,’” she said Saturday.

“You don’t do infantry.”

Pellerin shipped off to Georgia in the summer of 2007 for training, his family said, before ending up at Fort Drum, N.Y., that fall.

He came home when he could — it was about a seven-hour drive — and though he always stopped by to visit his family, it was Chelsey he saw the most, his parents said.

“He was in love, you know?” said Dale Farmer.

“We didn’t consider ourselves just married,” Chelsey said. “It was, ‘Hey, you’re my best friend, no one can ever take your spot. You’re my best friend.’“

For months, there was talk of Justin deploying, but “the date kept switching,” Chelsey said. For a while, he thought he was going to Iraq.

“It really was December before we knew for sure,” Melissa Farmer said.

They drove down to Fort Drum before he left in January, to say goodbye.

Justin wanted to use his training — “He was a very good shot,” Dale Farmer said — and if he had qualms about going, he didn’t share many with his family.

“He was most concerned about how we felt. Definitely,” Melissa Farmer said. “He didn’t even want to tell me he was going into the infantry.”

It was the same when he got to Afghanistan, deployed with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. When Justin called, he didn’t say much about what he’d been doing. “Especially with me, he didn’t want to tell me anything,” his mother said. “He would say, ’It’s really bad.’“

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