Granite State of Mind, #15: NH Marine Memorial, Hampton Beach
Robert Faulkner was my mother's older brother, my Uncle Bobby, my godather. He's the namesake of our firstborn, Robert Faulkner Pace. He was also a war hero, though he would never have called himself that. A troublemaking Portsmouth kid, he found himself in the United States Navy through the cooperation of my grandparents and the local police chief, and he'd stay there for the next 23 years. He was a diver, engaged in the sorts of experimental work that advanced the military's understanding of human physiology underwater and probably shortened his life. He did multiple tours in Vietnam, blowing up bridges and who knows what else - he didn't talk about that much, and I was too young to ask the right questions when I had the chance. By the time he retired, he was a Master Chief Petty Officer.
I knew my Uncle Bobby had all that history, but to me he was the guy who took me out for hamburgers and overtipped the waitress, who encouraged me to find the good in everyone we met, who loved to laugh and tell stories. Outside of my father, he's the man who most influenced the kind of person I want to be. Kind and generous, patriotic and compassionate. There were darker sides too, demons he wrestled with that I never knew. We lost him in 1992 when I was only seventeen, during my senior year of high school. He was not yet 52, and had just started to share some of his memories with me, some of the journal entries he had written during his early days in the Navy, but I never had the chance to know him as a man in my own right, or to help him set down his recollections on paper.
My Uncle Bobby's ashes were returned to the sea he loved at Hampton Beach, across from the Ashworth Hotel, where the New Hampshire Marine Memorial stands. Designed by Concord artist Alice Cosgrove, carved from Concord granite, The Lady was dedicated in 1957. Twelve feet tall atop a six-foot base and weighing seven tons, the statue serves to honor those sons and daughters of New Hampshire lost at sea in defense of our country. John Gay's 1714 poem "An Epistle to a Lady" is inscribed on the base, including the line "Breathe soft, ye winds, Ye waves in silence rest." We often think of Hampton Beach as a bustling mecca of sun-worshiping cross-border imports, but here is a place where New Hampshire asserts a solemn island amidst that ocean of noise, a sacred place to remember our sons and daughters. And for me, an uncle.