Blog Brings Injured Guardsman's Home Town to His Bedside
Monday, May 29, 2006
SUGAR HILL, N.H. -- As they read the news, Jennifer Gaudette felt queasy, Dick Bielefield cursed and Doug Glover felt "pretty much instant depression."
The news was from Washington, where Sugar Hill's police chief had contracted an infection in his hospital bed. Badly injured by shrapnel while on National Guard duty in Iraq, he had a fever and dangerous swelling in his brain, according to a Web log, or blog, run by the chief's sister. In a few hours, everybody here knew about it.
This is the way wounded troops and their home towns connect now: Letters, phone calls and gossip have been supplanted, in many cases, by Web sites that chronicle patients' every surgery, setback and squeeze of someone's hand.
For the past two months, Sugar Hill has learned how good, and how painful, it is to be that close.
"I think it plays with your emotions. I don't see how it can't," said Bielefield, a selectman who had helped hire Chief Jose Pequeño in 2001. "Sometimes, you wonder if you know too much."
Pequeño, 32, was born in New Orleans to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, but he grew up mainly in the north country of New Hampshire.
A former Marine, his first brush with local notoriety came 10 years ago, when he dived through the "Lemon Squeezer," a 16-inch-wide gap in rocks, to save an infant from drowning in the Lost River.
In 2001, he became both the chief and the sole officer in Sugar Hill, population about 590, a town of country inns and shaggy cows.
"Your biggest call of the day might be a horse in the road," said Gaudette, the town's administrative assistant.
As befits a man who was his own backup, Pequeño was said to have an easy way with people here. He gave a lot of warnings to speeders, remembered the home alarm codes of residents who forgot them, and corralled a lot of livestock. His wife, Kelley Pequeño, remembered one famous loose-horse call in which Pequeño started crooning over the police radio, "I should have been a cowboy."
Before his military police unit left for Iraq in spring 2005, the dispatcher told Pequeño that his fellow officer -- another had been hired to assist him -- was in a fight at the local meeting house. The chief roared over and found a surprise going-away party instead.
"He just cried" when he walked in, his wife said.