Sgt Laurence F. Bennett was fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan when his unit learned about the tragic school shootings that happened in Newtown, so he obtained a Connecticut flag that was flying over his base and began gathering signatures. A few days before the end of his duty, as he prepared to fly home and begin his retirement, he shipped the flag to Newtown.
Not knowing whether the flag ever made the long journey from the far east intact, he reached out to First Selectman Pat Llodra upon his arrival back in the states May 29, and was thrilled to learn that the flag arrived in Newtown and was in perfect condition.
A few days later, Sgt Bennett traveled to his home state of Connecticut and was welcomed to Newtown by a contingent of local officials including Mrs Llodra, Police Captain Joseph Rios, Human Resources Director Carole Ross and Building Department Assistant Lynn Kovack, who also assisted processing the thousands of gifts and messages pouring into the community in recent months.
In an email to the first selectman, Sgt Bennett wrote that he would be back in Connecticut for several days and wanted to visit, “if for nothing else, but to complete the circle and officially present the flag to Newtown.”
“I am not asking for you or I to be in the spotlight,” Sgt Bennett wrote. “But I feel that I owe it to my friends still in Afghanistan to know that they are still appreciated, no matter how many miles separate them from us.”
Sgt Bennett described the state symbol as the “last flag standing” after his Afghan base – FOB Frontenac – suffered an enemy attack.
But despite immediate concerns, many of the soldiers and personnel who were stationed there were thinking about Newtown throughout the end of December and into January.
“Newtown was on the minds of everyone,” he said.
One of the signatures, he noted, was from an Afghan national who worked as an interpreter on the base.
“He didn’t speak very much English, but when we told him what happened here at your school he was adamant about writing a healing message to the community,” Sgt Bennett told the gathered officials, pointing to the rough script on the flag.
Describing his effort to facilitate his fellow soldiers’ outpouring of support for Newtown back to the community was one of the highpoints of his many years of military service, which also saw Sgt Bennett doing tours of duty in war torn Iraq.
“Getting here with this flag was one of the best things about my military service, he said. “Now I feel like I can retire.”
Before he headed out to try to enjoy his retirement, Sgt Bennett reminded the officials that he and virtually every service member across the globe is still hurting over what occurred in Newtown, and that they send prayers and positive thoughts supporting the community’s recovery.
“I know that the healing process is only beginning but hope that it grows better every day,” Sgt Bennett said.