DRACUT – They served in wartime and in peace. In good locations and in harm’s way.
The Lafontaine brothers – Roger, Ronald, Richard, Raynard and Rene – amassed a combined military service of 57 years.
“Their sense of duty took them all around the world,” said close friend Jim Ogonowski, who served as master of ceremonies during the July 18 dedication of Lafontaine Square at Methuen Street and Robbins Avenue. “Vietnam, Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Their duty knew no bounds.”
Roger, 68, was the first to go, signing up with the Air Force in 1960. He served until 1963 and saw action in Vietnam. Ronald, 65, joined the Air Force in 1962 and also served in Vietnam. He stayed on with the Air National Guard until 1997 and served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Richard, 62, got drafted into the Army in 1967 and did two tours of duty in Vietnam before leaving in 1969. Raynard, 60, was also drafted in 1967 and joined the Navy, where he served until 1971 and saw combat in Vietnam. Rene, 49, joined the Army during peacetime in 1978 and stayed until 1981.
The square dedication was more than just an honor bestowed on the five brothers. It was a celebration of the extended family of the late Omer and Madeleine Lafontaine, who raised 12 children – six boys and six girls – at the homestead.
“It seemed as if there were 12 houses with Lafontaines living in them, but the reality was there was only one house with 12 Lafontaines living in it,” Ogonowski quipped.
Four generations of Lafontaines listened to speeches and accepted proclamations and citations from Rep. Colleen Garry and Selectman Robert Cox. For a group that numbered more than 100, lining up for a family photo took only several minutes.
As people came up to thank the brothers for their service and shake their hands, Raynard’s eyes filled with water.
“You got called and you went. That’s all there was to it,” said Raynard, who served with the Navy in Vietnam from 1967 to 1971. “Coming from such a big family, you really missed being home more than anything else.”
Close friend Bonnie Elie said she envied the Lafontaine clan.
“I grew up only having one aunt, and she died when I was 16,” said Elie, a member of the Dracut School Committee. “I get choked up just looking at this group.”
Elie credited Omer and Madeleine for instilling qualities in their 12 children that have been passed down to their 46 grandchildren, 39 great-grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter.
“Integrity, love, giving, hard work. It’s just a wonderful crew,” she said. “Not many families could pull something like this off.”
Lining up for a photo beneath the street-pole that will bear the family name, Richard Lafontaine paused for a moment and left the remaining four brothers waiting.
“He’s gone to get the picture of mom and dad,” said Raynard, just as Richard came running back with a framed photo of Omer and Madeleine.
“All set,” said Richard.