A 1,000-mile ride for a fallen friend

Max Franklin, police officer, Public Safety, is a retired Army veteran who recently embarked on a journey to reunite with a family he had not seen in 15 years.

In 2004, Max was called out of the Army Reserves and sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, to prepare for his deployment to Iraq. There, the 47-year-old platoon sergeant met Sgt. Lawrence (Larry) Roukey, and the two quickly developed a strong bond.

“I was 42 years old, and he was 33,” Max recalled. “He liked Notre Dame football, and I loved Notre Dame football. He loved basketball. We’d play one-on-one outside our little compound area. In the few months we knew each other, we became great friends.”

The soldiers in their platoon often talked about their families, and Max recalled Larry mentioning how excited he was to reunite with his son when they returned from Baghdad. “I remember vividly one night, laying in our bunks. Larry would talk about his wife and his stepdaughter and his son, Nick, who was 2 at the time. Our orders were from April to April, and he was so happy he’d be home by October, so he could take his son trick-or-treating.”

Six weeks into their year-long deployment, Larry set out on his first mission – a chemical weapons raid at a nearby warehouse. Larry was given orders to join a different group of soldiers for this specific assignment, so the rest of his platoon would remain behind.

“The night before the mission, we were standing by some Humvees at the compound, and Larry was telling me how he didn’t want to leave with this new team. I tried to reassure him that everything would be OK. He’d been trained, he knew what to do. ‘See you back tomorrow evening,’ I’d said.”

During their mission the following morning, tragedy struck. As the doors to the warehouse were opened, a massive explosion occurred. “We were staged in a green zone, about 5-10 miles from that site,” Max said. “We heard radio chatter, and news started to spread. I just knew it was about my friend, Larry. I had that gut feeling.”

Later, his suspicions would be confirmed. Two soldiers lost their lives that morning, and a third was severely injured. Sadly, Larry was one of the two who never returned.

As platoon sergeant and a personal friend, Max escorted Larry’s body back to his family in Maine, where he stayed for several days offering condolences to Larry’s wife, Rayanne, and the rest of the family on behalf of those who served alongside him. “It was so tough, but I was glad I was able to go and be there for the funeral.”

After Max returned from his first deployment, he purchased a bracelet to remember his fallen comrade. The inscription included Larry’s name, their unit and the date he lost his life. Max put the bracelet on in 2005 and didn’t take if off. It served as his daily reminder of his friend and the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country.  

Although Max did not see the Roukey family for 15 years, he remained in contact with them. During a recent conversation, Rayanne shared some exciting news about her son – Nick was preparing to graduate high school. Max knew what he had to do.

“Most parents are there when their son or daughter graduates, and I can’t image not having both of them there,” Max shared. “I made the decision that I was going to go out there and see him graduate since his father couldn’t.”

He decided to ride his motorcycle to Maine, a trip that gave Max time to think and reflect. Along with the commencement ceremony ticket, Max brought with him a gift for the graduate – his custom bracelet. “In some ways, passing it on made me feel like some weight had been taken off of my shoulders. I’ve carried so much. I needed Nick to know that someone cared and that his dad will never be forgotten.” Max shared with Nick that, in 15 years, the bracelet had never left his wrist – until that moment. “I think it meant a lot to him that an old man drove 1,000 miles to see him graduate. He was appreciative.”

Since returning from Maine, Max has decided to order a new bracelet to replace his old one. “I really thought that by giving the bracelet up and not wearing it again I’d forget about him, but I don’t want to forget about Larry and the rest of my team, nor our accomplishments and heartache.” Max went on to serve three more tours overseas after his first in Iraq. “People forget that these wars go on for so long, and there are people still making sacrifices. Sometimes that’s with their lives.”

 

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