New Bedford Park Gets Bright New Tables In Honor Of Fallen Soldiers
NEW BEDFORD — Four bright new picnic tables were placed this week next to the New Bedford Regional Airport playground honoring Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez, and the people behind the effort, including Rodriguez’s mother, hope to create similar memorials for fallen soldiers across the state.
“I’d rather keep his memory alive than sit and cry,” Lisa Rodriguez said of her son on Thursday morning at the park, after watering flowerbeds that were planted with help from city staff. “Although, I do cry.”
The new picnic tables are red, green, yellow and blue, matching the colorful design of the playground dedicated to Lance Cpl. Rodriguez in May 2014. The 19-year-old U.S. Marine from Fairhaven was killed in action in December 2013, while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Three of the tables have inlaid chess boards, reflecting a hobby Rodriguez loved. Lisa Rodriguez and former airport commissioner Michael Knabbe said the tables were made at Mike’s Wood Shop in Westport, and placed with the support of the Airport Commission.
Knabbe said two Adirondack chairs, and a small table to go between them, soon will be set up on the airport’s observation deck.
He said he and Rodriguez hope to put placards on each of the six pieces — four tables, two chairs — to honor each of six soldiers from greater New Bedford who have been killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001. Knabbe said they hadn’t yet spoken to all of the soldiers’ families, but hoped to do so soon.
And his and Rodriguez’s goals have grown even larger.
“Why stop at New Bedford?” Knabbe said, explaining that a total of 148 soldiers in Massachusetts have been killed in action since Sept. 11, according to the state Department of Veterans Services.
“So, we’re going to plan on doing 142 more tables or chairs,” Knabbe said.
Councilor-at-large Linda Morad visited the airport park Thursday morning to check out the new tables. She praised Rodriguez’s and Knabbe’s efforts.
“Ordinary people doing amazing things,” Morad said.
Knabbe acknowledged the statewide project would be “a hefty one.” They hope to get rolling on it early next year. The four tables and two chairs at the airport park cost about $2,000 in total, Knabbe said, meaning 142 more pieces could approach $50,000.
But he, Rodriguez and others involved are no strangers to fundraising.
Atlantic Aviators, a local chapter of Women in Aviation, raised money for construction of the playground, which has cost nearly $250,000 including recent improvements, Knabbe said.
The new picnic tables and chairs are funded by the Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez Memorial Foundation, which raised more than $14,000 at an April comedy show. The foundation will host its second annual Winterfest on Sept. 27 in Fairhaven, at Livesey Park.
“We’re anticipating a few thousand kids this year,” Lisa Rodriguez said of Winterfest.
The picnic tables include little drawers, but with all the planning, the drawers are empty at the moment.
“We’ve been so busy we forgot to get the chess pieces,” Knabbe said.
Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter@MikeLawrenceSCT
To helpTo get involved with a local effort to create and place 142 tables or chair honoring soldiers from across Massachusetts who were killed in action since Sept. 11, 2001, visit www.thesmilingwarrior.org or call Michael Knabbe at 508-889-8141. The Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Rodriguez Memorial Foundation also can be found on Facebook, by searching for the foundation’s name.