Off Beat: Mass. town honors fallen Vancouver Marine

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When a Massachusetts town did its twice-a-year salute to fallen service personnel, their local coverage of the Memorial Day project was led by a tribute to a Vancouver Marine.

Sgt. Jason Peto was wounded Nov. 24, 2010, during combat operations in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He died Dec. 7 in a U.S. Navy medical center near Washington, D.C.

A group in Holliston, Mass., organizes a tribute to the war dead each Veterans Day and Memorial Day. This week, they honor 286 troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 6½ months.

Vietnam veteran Bobby Blair creates posters to commemorate each person who has been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom since the previous holiday tribute. Volunteers put up the posters, accompanied by flags.

The poster with Peto’s name is the lead image in the story carried by hollistonreporter.com. Paul Saulnier, a reporter for the online news outlet, sent a link to The Columbian.

In the photo of Peto’s poster, the neighboring tribute honors another Marine, Pfc. Colton Rusk. According to the Defense Department, the 20-year-old Texan was killed by sniper fire on Dec. 5 in Helmand Province. His bomb-sniffing dog, Eli, crawled on top of Rusk after he was shot to protect him, said the news release.

Peto’s poster is among several displayed across the street from the local high school.

“Kids see it when they come out of school,” Blair said. “This is their war.”

Most posters are set up along local roads, Blair said, where he has a captive audience during rush hour. “Traffic slows down, and it makes people think.”

Keep the flags flying

The tribute was a response to 9/11 … or more correctly, to a 9/11 anniversary. A year after the terror attacks, the local American Legion post planted flags in the lawn of a Holliston church on Sept. 11, 2002, to honor the victims of 9/11.

In 2003, people started wondering what else they could do with all those flags. Blair, the post commander, decided to use them in a tribute to fallen troops. The first few holidays, Blair said, he put up a poster for every war fatality.

“It got too long,” Blair said, which is why they switched to honoring the military personnel killed since the previous tribute. “At one point, it was 34.4 miles long and it stretched into seven towns.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.