The massive centerpiece attraction for the planned park in honor of slain soldier Jonathan Roberge arrived at Steel-Fab Inc. on Crawford Street in Fitchburg Friday for preparation before placement.
The 60-ton M60A3 tank rolled in on a flatbed trailer from North Carolina on loan from the Army.
“We’ve been 26 months working on this,” said Roberge’s father John Roberge. “Tons and tons of paperwork, a lot of dead ends.”
The PFC Jonathan Roberge Veteran Memorial Park on Mechanic Street in Leominster will honor Roberge and all the soldiers from Massachusetts killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Roberge’s mother Pauline Roberge battled tears as she watched workers at Steel-Fab prepare to take the tank off the trailer.
“Seeing that tank come down (Interstate 190) it was so unbelievable and emotional, exciting,” she said. “Words escape me, I can’t explain what is in my heart.”
Roberge was a crew member on an Abrams tank but was driving a humvee when in improvised explosive device killed him and four other soldiers in Mosul, Iraq in February 2009.
Workers at Steel-Fab will strip down the camouflage paint and then paint it a desert tan free of charge, said state Rep. Dennis Rosa, D-Leominster, who scrambled to get last minute paperwork completed so the tractor trailer from Superior Cranes in Rockingham, N.C. and its escort J’s Flag Car Service could drive over Massachusetts roads to reach Steel-Fab.
“It’s a good thing to be involved in,” said Steel-Fab President Mark W. Freeman. “We try to do what we can to help the community.”
Leominster’s Director of Veterans Services Richard N. “Rick” Voutour contacted the Army April 14, 2011 to request a tank for the park.
“Basically, the guy said we don’t have any, call us every month,” Voutour said. “We developed a relationship and called every couple of weeks.”
Voutour’s assistant Elizabeth Sappett said the tank is integral to the park.
“We needed the tank to go forward with everything else,” she said.
When an Army National Guard armory in Bladenboro, N.C. closed, the Army offered a tank that was on display there.
Voutour got estimates to ship the tank by truck as high as $85,000 but Rosa got legislative funding to offset $10,000.
Voutour called Superior Cranes to ask how much it would cost to load the tank on a train car and the company offered to truck it for $35,000.
That was still more than the committee could afford so the company dropped its price to $25,000 plus expenses for the driver Fred Schnierlein and that brought the project within budget.
Schnierlein served in the Army from 1996-1996 and reenlisted after 911, serving from 2001-2003.
He was a trucker in the Army responsible for hauling tanks and considered it an honor to bring the M60A3 to Massachusetts.
Roberge’s parents were on hand with his brother Andrew, 15, and sister Meghan, who is a teacher in Gardner, but the tank was delayed a day by the paperwork so his sister Sarah had to return to school at the University of New England.
“We think its astonishing,” Andrew Roberge said. “We can’t believe it’s here, we’re so stoked. It’s very emotional, emotions are running high given the circumstances.
Mike McAllister poured a cement pad that is 22 inches thick and reinforced with steel in November in anticipation of the tank’s arrival.
Once the tank is in place the committee in charge of building the park will start working on the memorial.
It will include a circular memorial featuring granite pillars about 10 feet high that have the pictures of military personnel from Massachusetts who were killed in the war.
In the center of the memorial, designed by Phil Cote, will be a flat granite slab. On one side will be a bronze statue of Roberge looking over his shoulder, and on the other will be relief pictures of the four soldiers killed with him.