After U.S. soldier Jonathan Roberge was killed in Iraq on February 9, 2009, his family wanted to honor his memory with a park in his hometown of Leominster, Massachusetts, but specifically with a real tank that would honor his military profession.
The park began as just a way of honoring the fallen soldier, but soon came to stand for all Massachusetts soldiers who had given their lives for their country in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To make their dream a reality Roberge’s family created the Johnny Ro Veterans Memorial Park Committee, drawing in local business and donors to help pay for the creation of the park. Since the soldier Roberge was trained as a tank driver, the committee decided that the only truly fitting tribute would be a real, decommissioned tank. The group began petitioning the Army and after two years of nagging, were finally given possession of a sturdy piece of rolling thunder courtesy of the North Carolina National Guard Armory in North Carolina. Thanks to the charity of local businesses and vets, the M-60A3 tank was transported to Massachusetts and refurbished not as a vehicle of battle, but as a reminder of its cost.
The tank was unveiled in 2013 to hundreds of onlookers who were surprised by the slogan, “I’m Kind of a Big Deal” emblazoned on the tank’s main barrel, a favorite saying of Roberge’s. A set of smaller solemn statues of the helmets and boots of fallen soldiers hanging from a rifle stuck in the ground were added later to reflect the broad scope of those mourned at the site. There are also plans to eventually include military blast walls etched with the names of the local fallen soldiers