GRANTSBURG, WIS. – A photo of Carson Holmquist in his Marine uniform was already hanging on the Hall of Honor at Grantsburg High School, one of several dozen alumni recognized for their military service by the tiny Wisconsin community.
On Friday, the photo became a memorial after news broke that Holmquist, 26, a 2008 graduate, had been one of four Marines killed at a Navy operational center in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Thursday.
Every year, several Grantsburg graduates enlist in the military, but the town of 1,300 about 80 miles northeast of the Twin Cities had largely escaped suffering casualties after more than a decade of war.
So the news of one of their own dying in uniform, not in Iraq or Afghanistan but on home soil, hit especially hard.
“It’s a very patriotic community, it’s a difficult day in Grantsburg. A lot of people are hurting,” said Grantsburg High School Principal Josh Watt. “It’s shocking, this whole series of events.”
Tom Holmquist, Carson’s father, works the second shift as a machinist at the Parker Hannifin plant in town, and two Marines came to the shop floor to deliver the news about his son’s death, said Grantsburg Village President Glenn Rolloff, who also works at the plant.
“It was a hard day at work today. A deep sadness fell over the plant,” Rolloff said. The plant produces precision-engineered products.
About two dozen people gathered Friday in front of the high school, where the flag was lowered to half-staff. Community members held white candles in a moment of silence.
Tom and Carol Searing of nearby Frederic, Wis., sat with a Marine Corps flag draped over their laps. As a Marine, Tom did two tours in Vietnam. Although the couple didn’t know Holmquist or his family, Tom came with his wife to the vigil to pay respects to a brother in arms.
“The circumstances of this tragedy were senseless,” Searing said. “It wasn’t even in battle.”
Holmquist was a two-year starter in the defensive backfield for the Grantsburg Pirates and played all four years of high school. He enlisted in the Marines right after graduation, fulfilling his lifelong dream..
Watt, the principal, recalled him returning to visit after finishing boot camp, squared away in his dress blues.
“You could just tell that he was proud of his accomplishment and he was proud to be a Marine,” he said.
Holmquist, a sergeant, served a deployment in Okinawa, Japan, and Afghanistan, the latter of which he returned from in May 2014. He leaves behind a wife, Jasmine, and their 2-year-old son, Wyatt.
In Grantsburg, anyone joining the military gets a send-off when they leave and a celebration when they come home, Rolloff said. The American Legion is one of the busiest establishments in town.
Brenda Schultz, of Grantsburg, organized Friday’s vigil at the school using social media. Schultz works with Tom Holmquist, who has been a good friend to her, she said, fixing her car and plowing her driveway for many years.
“The family is an all-around good American family,” she said. “To lose a child in that way — I just have no words.”
Carson’s father and stepmother, Sue, attended the vigil. Tom Holmquist did not speak except to thank the community for coming out to support his son.
Emily Virgilio was about five years behind Carson in school. They used to ride the bus together when she was in middle school and he was in high school. She remembers him as a respectful teenager who stuck up for the younger kids and set a good example.
“He was always doing good, even then.”
Colleen and James Schirmer stood waving an American flag. Neither knew Carson but attended after hearing the news since four of their grandchildren are in the armed forces, one now serving in Iraq. It hit close to home for the military family.
“[Carson] belongs to everybody,” Colleen Schirmer said. “He’s our son, our brother, our neighbor, our friend. We don’t know him personally, but he’s no stranger.”
Her husband, James, has been a member of the Minnesota Patriot Guard for 10 years and regularly attends military funerals. “It never gets easier,” he said.
Marines will stand with Holmquist’s body until he is transported back to Grantsburg for burial when the investigation ends, the family said. Holmquist, a diesel mechanics specialist, and his family were living in Georgia and he was at military training the day of the shooting. He was an avid hunter and fisherman, who also enjoyed farming.
A group of Parker Hannifin workers went out to the Holmquist home Friday to console their colleague, who had talked of being relieved that his son was out of harm’s way.
“This is the type of event you hear on TV and then you hear that the victims are from New York City or from Minneapolis or somewhere, but never from Grantsburg, Wisconsin,” Rolloff said.
“They were really excited that, after two tours in Afghanistan, he was finally coming home, and he was stateside, and he was stationed at a recruiter’s. How much safer can you be?”
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434