FITCHBURG----John “Jack” Martin Hriniak, (69), of Fitchburg died peacefully after a prolonged illness at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, MA. He is survived by his wife, Mary Brooks of Fitchburg; her son, Justin Brooks of Leominster; and his brother, Richard Hriniak of Greensboro, N.C. He was recently predeceased by his son, David Hriniak of Fitchburg.
Jack, a resident of Fitchburg and former resident of Leominster, was born in Needham on April 9, 1948. He graduated from Needham High School in 1966. Afterwards, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served in Vietnam with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine, India Company at Con Thien (Hill of Angels) near the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone during some of the fiercest fighting of the war.
His service in Vietnam made an imprint on Jack’s life, long after the war officially ended. Combat and its exposure to herbicidal chemicals compromised his health and eventually his independency. However, he did not allow the war to define him. Instead he dedicated his life to defend and support those in the community with little voice. After graduating from Fitchburg State College, he became a social worker in this area for the state. In the early 1980’s, he was a counselor for the Montachusett Employment and Training Program (M.E.T.P.) in Gardner, providing classroom support and job placement for those unemployed. Later he worked at the Charles River Center in Needham in the employment and day services program for consumers with developmental disabilities. In 1991, Massachusetts DMR awarded him the best ARC employee in direct care for that year. Three years later he received the Earl Mountain Award from Charles River for his outstanding service to programs and people at their center.
His ability to serve those most vulnerable ended as his health declined, but his will to live continued. He used his quick wit and big heart to console and bring sunshine to those around him. For over three years, the Bedford VA was his home, and the staff became his family. He challenged them with his fierce sense of independence, but rewarded them with his smile and love. He used his passion for writing poetry as a means of grappling with the past and dealing with the present. About his struggle with PTSD, he once wrote “To let go of the past would be like hearing children sing.”
At the request of Jack and his family, funeral services and burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Jack Hriniak at Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial VA Hospital, David James Hospice Unit, 200 Springs Road, Bedford, MA 01730.
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