Standing Tall: The Memorial Garden Miracle

Hurricane Irene might have been gentler than expected in some quarters, but in West Hartford, Vermont, it produced a surreal

The Memorial Garden MiracleHurricane Irene might have been gentler than expected in some quarters, but in West Hartford, Vermont, it produced a surreal and frightening landscape. The White River jumped its banks and sent waves of contaminated water into nearby homes. Shipping containers, propane tanks, and even entire trucks were spotted washing down the river near Patriots’ Bridge in the middle of the night.

Patti and Scott Holmes had a special connection to the flood zone. Their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Jeffery Holmes, was one of three fallen warriors honored on a monument in a memorial garden next to the bridge. Jeffery died on Thanksgiving Day 2004 in Fallujah during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was shot in the neck during an ambush and a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed his legs. Patti took some comfort knowing that her son had perished instantly, serving the military he wanted to join since he was nine years old.

The August hurricane spared Patti and Scott’s home. Patti didn’t realize how bad the situation had been at the monument site until one of Jeff’s friends sent a photo the next day. “When I opened it, I just started crying,” she says. All the flowers that volunteers lovingly tended were gone. The granite monument had toppled off its concrete base and was likely ruined. Alone at her desk, Patti wept for the fun-loving blue-eyed son who didn’t live to see his 21st birthday, the boy she still wrote on Christmas and birthdays. Now another piece of him had slipped away.

Scott drove to the bridge that night to see exactly what had happened but was forced to turn back. The torrential flooding had destroyed roads, dented railings on the bridge, and propelled a modular home into the middle of a street. Who knows how the angry waters had ravaged the monument?

But when Patti and Scott were finally able to get there later in the week, they were greeted with an extraordinary sight. Local residents had returned the monument to its proper place, unharmed. “I didn’t see a scratch, not even on top of it,” Patti marveled in joy and relief.

Friends have vowed to help Patti and Scott replant the garden. Come spring, irises, daisies and other flowers in hues of red, white, and blue will surround this community treasure, which is once again standing tall.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest