Gift brings Iraq vet, lobsterman together

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Connecticut man gives his boat to a returning soldier, sparking an annual giveaway program

Connecticut man gives his boat to a returning soldier, sparking an annual giveaway program

In the boating world, John Niekrash isn’t typical. Like many boaters, the Connecticut lobsterman realized he needed a bigger, faster vessel. Unlike many boaters, he decided to donate his 24-foot Pickerell, Krasher III, to an Iraq War veteran. It was his way of offering someone a fresh start and possibly a new career.

To be fair, Niekrash, 52, decided he would give the boat to the first veteran to call. That was Lance Cpl. Richard Giguere, a Marine from Chepachet, R.I. “I saw the article in Soundings [January issue] and couldn’t believe someone would do this,” says Giguere, who is 22. “I’ve been quahogging since I was 18, and lobstering is just the next step up.”

Giguere has owned an 18-foot Hawkline built in the 1980s for the last three years, and it simply wasn’t suitable for make a living. “It had just about had it,” says Giguere. “But Krasher is bigger and better, and I am very excited to get it out and use it. This is just amazing.”

Giguere received the boat during an April 4 ceremony at Noank (Conn.) Shipyard, whose staff had donated their time to help ready the Pickerell for the handover. “The shipyard has been great,” says Niekrash. “They painted the bottom of the boat, got the dings out of the prop, just did the usual yearly maintenance so the boat would be ready to go when Richard got it.”

Niekrash says he got the idea to donate Krasher III after attending a memorial golf tournament last year. He was moved by a young Iraq War soldier who had lost his leg due to a roadside bomb and spoke at the event. However, he says he got more calls from people wanting to help with the project and donate other boats than those interested in taking his boat. “I’d say about 40 people called from all over the country, and it was mostly calling to help out,” he says. “That’s why we decided to launch a Web site and resolve to donate a boat every April.”

The Web site (www.workvesselsforvets.org) gives background on how the project began and how to contact Niekrash. Kathleen Burns, general manager of Noank Shipyard, says they hope to launch a networking program on the site. “We’ve known John and taken care of his boats for a long time now, and we thought this was the most fantastic idea,” says Burns. “We thought that this would be an internal homegrown event, but then it just got bigger and bigger.”

Burns contacted the office of Sen. Joe Lieberman in Hartford, Conn., and his secretary told her that they already had seen the Soundings article, and the senator planned to attend the dedication ceremony. “Everyone wants to support the troops coming back, but they don’t know where to start,” says Burns. “But all it takes is a good idea.”

Lieberman says he is proud the country has evolved from the Vietnam era, when returning soldiers were weren’t exactly welcomed home. He recalls being at BradleyInternationalAirport in Windsor Locks, Conn., recently and watching people in the terminal stand up and cheer as a group of men in uniform came off the plane.

“There’s not enough transition, or they feel forgotten,” says Lieberman. “John has done the best. It’s the old story: It’s not about giving fish; it’s about teaching them how to fish.”

Giguere joined the Marines in 2005 and completed two tours in Iraq — one from January to September 2005 and the second in 2007 from January until Sept. 13.

“I volunteered to go back since I heard there wasn’t enough soldiers,” says Giguere. “Both times I worked at the Al-Asad Air Base near Baghdad as a mechanic, fixing trucks for convoy missions.”

Giguere’s mother, Donna, says when she first heard about Niekrash giving away a boat she thought it was a joke. “I thought at first, What’s the catch here?” she says. “And then I realized that there was no catch; he was just doing it out of the kindness of his heart. Nobody does that. It’s an absolutely wonderful thing he’s done for my son. A boat of this size is something that would cost a great deal.”

Giguere, as a soldier, and his new boat both have played roles in acts of bravery. In 1993, Niekrash saved Patrick LaBlank of Bristol, Conn., whom he had seen fall overboard off New London, Conn. Niekrash dove into the water and got LaBlank just as he was going under, bringing him aboard Krasher III. When LaBlank died from cancer six years ago, he left Niekrash his watch, which had been inscribed with “I.O.U. LIFE” on the back.

Niekrash now is enjoying his next chapter on the water aboard a new Krasher, a LeBlanc 26 lobster boat built in Nova Scotia. “He’s got it out on the water already,” says his wife, Deb. “Now that it’s a little bigger, we’re hoping we can invite people out on it in addition to the lobstering.”

Giguere’s fiancée, Ashley Barry, says she is glad that this kind act will turn into something much bigger. “Richard’s always loved going out on the water, and this will give him an opportunity to expand that,” says Barry. “We’re very excited about the future.”