As I was searching desperately for words which might begin to describe an almost indescribable day in Waterville Valley, an e-mail arrived from Mark Decoteau tonight. Thirteen hours earlier, as we were readying to shoot in his son Marc’s memory at the Waterville Valley Recreation Department gym, he had met me at midcourt and handed me a dogtag, pictured below, with Marc’s image on one side and these words inscribed on the other: “In loving memory, PFC Marc Paul Decoteau, 1/29/2010.”
Aside from proudly pointing out that his son had, in fact, been promoted from PFC to Specialist before his death, Mark wasn’t able to say much in what was an emotional moment, but he wanted to say more in his e-mail. I’m taking the liberty to reprint part of it here, because it’s a message worth sharing about the quality of the men and women that we have on our country’s front line:
Our son served bravely and honorably, however, he isn’t unique among the men and women of our military. Many others in uniform right now would exchange places with him without hesitation. Not because they want to die, but if they could protect their fellow soldiers or defend our country even at the cost of their life they would do so. Thank you for making Marc a part of your tribute — but let him be a representative for his fellow brothers and sisters in arms.
Beautifully said, Mark. Thank you.
Heather and I, toting along Things 1, 2 and 3, had met Mark and his wife Nancy, along with our friends Chris and Tiffany Hodges, the night before, at the Coyote Grill, right there in the village of Waterville Valley. Mark is the town manager, Chris the director of public safety and fire chief.
Mark and Nancy could not have been warmer, laughing at our stories and telling those of their own, many of them revolving around Marc and his two siblings, Andrew and Maddie. They engaged our kids, particularly Mason, who was their neighbor at that end of the table. It was more than just comfortable. It was genuinely fun. I was thrilled to hear they were planning to be at the gym when we began on Wednesday morning.
So after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast from the Waterville Valley Coffee Emporium, we began shooting shortly after 9 a.m., and there were Mark and Nancy under the basket, along with two easel-sized photos of Marc — one playing lacrosse and another playing football. Chris, who along with Tiffany has been one of HFH’s greatest supporters, started next to me at the foul line, and away we went.
Here’s the point at which I have got to give Mason his due for saving the day in terms of video documentation. We were rolling along at 406 … 407 … 408 … when his voice popped up from my left: “Dad, am I supposed to be able to see you in the camera, or is it supposed to be black.”
I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. The bad news, as it turns out, is that the camera missed 57 shots. The good news is that had Mason not checked, it could have been closer to 4,700. So again … thanks, buddy.
We restarted, continuing with two balls, and we started to really fly. I have to say, this was not my best shooting effort, percentage-wise, but it’s amazing to see what can happen when you get a bunch of folks similarly inspired, as we all were today by the memory of a real American hero. I may not have been particularly fast, but everyone else was.
Before we were done, 17 rebounders had cycled through. In addition to Mark, Nancy and Chris, in no particular order, here’s who lent a hand: Tiffany Hodges, Drew Hodges, Kyle Hodges, Kara Bean, Seth Bean, Rachel Gasowski, Jeremy Gasowski, Liz Greene, Tom Quackenbush, Tim Kingston, Dave Noyes, Jeff Dropkin, Ian McKinnon, and Andrew Decoteau, who joined his parents for the last 200.
It was just about right at 1 p.m. when No. 5,000 dropped through the net, bringing us over the 15 percent mark overall at 152,807 down, 847,193 to go to 1 million made foul shots. We all stuck around for a few team photos, then made our way to the welcome table near the entrance to the gym, where I learned that the amazing folks at Waterville Valley had raised $1,000 for the cause.
Among those donors, as I might have expected, were Mark and Nancy Decoteau. We shared a few more words, vowed to get together again, and then they left, but not before saying goodbye to the kids. “See you, Rosie. Bye, Mason. Bye, Noah.” It was a small thing, but they had met our kids just once, and they remembered their names. It made me smile.
It also reminded me of our earlier conversation at midcourt. Mark hadn’t said many words at the time, but he had said a lot.
“Keep Marc with you,” he told me as I draped the dogtag over my neck. “You can return it when you get to a million.”
It’s a promise.