By Julie Gagnon Prior
From November, 2018 to February, 2019 my pituitary gland was malfunctioning. This caused a lot of symptoms, one being extreme, debilitating fatigue. My Mom is my Medical Proxy and caretaker for times that are severe like this.
While in bed at Mom and Dad’s, I received a lot of computer messages from people asking if they could help or come visit me. One example is on Dec. 8, when my friend Mandy asked if I’d like a visitor. I wrote back, “Hi! Too weak for talking, but I want a raincheck.” Her reply, “You’ve got it my friend! Keep your chin up.”
By the time April came around and Carl and I were scheduled for our trip to Virginia, I was gaining strength but honestly very fearful of leaving the house. But there were more reasons to go than to stay: so, I played the odds. I won the bet.
Carl and I stayed a few days at my brother Brad’s house in Woodbridge, Virginia. On April 14, my sister-in-law Sandy asked if we would like to go for a ride to see where Brad used to work. Well of course we did!
Brad is a Marine and worked in Quantico. Sandy commented that there are other things within Quantico that we would see, like the FBI Training Academy. At this news I got silly excited. I said, “No way! I saw on Facebook just last week that a friend of mine is training there!” Sandy laughed and said, “Well, maybe we can see her.” I immediately sent a message to my friend asking if she could meet. We lucked out because it was a Sunday afternoon and she had it off from training. My friend said we could meet in the parking lot of the FBI main building. This was all too funny!! We were both so crazy psyched to see each other. We all busted a gut when Mandy said, “I couldn’t come visit you in Vermont in December but you made it here to Virginia to come visit me.”
The next day Brad brought us to the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Carl and I thought it’d be interesting, but the Museum far exceeded our expectations. It is a phenomenal place.
We walked up on a small crowd listening to a Marine tell the story of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. I was beside myself excited because Brad and I have a connection to one of the Marines involved in this event. See, my Grampa had told us about his brother “Lucky”. His given name was Renford Gagnon.
When he arrived at Iwo Jima, he had to walk across the rocks to get to shore. He sat down for a break on a torpedo on the beach. His superior hollered at him to get off in case it was a booby trap. As he was walking away, the torpedo exploded, knocking him onto his stomach on the beach – but otherwise leaving him unharmed. That is how he earned the name “Lucky”. He was also a “runner”. Wikipedia defines a runner as “… a military courier, a foot soldier responsible for carrying messages during war.” When the decision was made to get a second (and larger) flag for the press photos; Lucky was the runner. He’s the one who brought the new flag to the photo shoot.
As we listened to the Marine tell the story, I also learned that Ira Hayes was part of this event. This excited me even further as one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs is his cover of “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.” I had always thought that the song was made up; I didn’t know Ira Hayes was a true life Marine.
When we got back to Brad’s house he asked if he could talk to me alone. He was all serious and such; very unlike Brad. He faced me and put his hand out (implying a handshake). I reached out and shook his hand, which held a coin. He said, “This is a Marine Challenge Coin. These coins can’t be bought. A person only has one if it is given to them. They are given when someone does something outstanding for themselves or for others. This is for you. You have challenged yourself above and beyond all expectations to fight your illness and still be here with us. You are an inspiration for so many.”
He went on to say, “I received mine for arranging a military funeral for a friend. I was handed my coin after the funeral.” I love my brother.
But wait, there’s more… I love saying that. Now here is a coincidence...
If you look back to the Islander Facebook page on June 14 at 11 a.m., you will see another link to our family history. Uncle Renford’s niece (and my dad’s first cousin) Sandy came up from Connecticut to visit the site of my great, great grandfather Joe LaRose’s blacksmith shop in South Hero.
I find it mindboggling that at the same time that I was writing this column for The Islander, The Islander posted photos and a story that involved our family history as well.
It’s a freaky cool world out there
Julie Gagnon Prior
Julie Gagnon Prior resides in Grand Isle with her partner Carl and their 5 dogs. Prior has been battling Lyme Disease for several years, which she