Top, the caisson bearing Michael DeMarsico leaves the funeral home; left, the DeMarsico family asked blue be worn; right, Sens. John Kerry, left, and Scott Brown, both military veterans, attended the funeral.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mike DeMarsico left for the Army with little fanfare.
The Drury High School graduate who had always wanted to be a soldier returned this week to an outpouring of emotion — from an overwhelming sense of pride for the sacrifice he'd made to the deep sense of grief that the community had lost someone so young and so beloved.
On Saturday, 20-year-old Army Pfc. Michael R. DeMarsico II was buried with military honors in the Veterans Circle at Southview Cemetery after a funeral service attended by hundreds, including the state's top officials. He was the first combat casualty the city had incurred since the loss of Peter W. Foote III in 1968 in Vietnam.
"As a boy he wanted to be a soldier, as a soldier he did not hide or retreat," said the Rev. David Anderson of First Baptist Church. "He asked for the toughest of duties out on the point, doing what he did to protect his brothers, to save their lives and protect ours."
Anderson described a young man not so different from so many others. Raised in North Adams, with three sisters and a brother, his family used words like kind and considerate, selfless and loyal but also sarcastic and, in the loving ways of siblings, "kind of a jerk."
An athlete, he'd been involved in youth and high school sports and participated in the La Festa Baseball Exchange. He was a team player, they said, not one to want to hog the spotlight. Quiet and stoic, he opened up as you got to know him. He was "studly" and making sure he always looked good.
Anderson said there four other words to describe him: Courage, honor, valor, hero.
Serving with a Stryker combat unit in Afghanistan, DeMarsico "had found 15 improvised explosive devices as the point man for that platoon as the lead soldier of which every man in that platoon relied upon to save their lives in combat," said Anderson. It was on Aug. 16 that the unit encountered a 16th.
"Thank you for raising him as a true American hero," he said to the family. "His selflessness, impact and legacy will be everlasting and will he surely be remembered by all he touched."
The horse-drawn caisson carrying DeMarsico's casket left Flynn & Dagnoli-Montagna Home for Funerals on West Main Street on Saturday morning for the service at First Baptist Church. Monument Square was encircled with a waving wall of American flags held by more than 100 members of the Patriot Guard.
Thousands had gathered for his homecoming on Wednesday. The crowds were fewer on Saturday but still hundreds stood in the hot sun as the service was broadcast across Monument Square. With temperatures in the high 80s, the Red Cross was handing out water bottles at the church and the cemetery.
People were arriving on Main Street early in the morning to watch the funeral procession go by, and came out of their homes to watch it pass as it later made its way to Southview Cemetery.
"This community has just rallied in incredible ways to support the DeMarsicos and our incredible hero Michael," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "All we need to do is look around to figure it out. This is just a beautiful tribute to a great man and a great family."
One Vietnam War veteran from Troy, N.Y., was there as part of the Patriot Guard, a loose organization that ensures that military funerals are not disrupted. He didn't want to give his name but said he had attended a few other services.
"I just wanted to show my condolences to the family," he said. "It's a shame, it's a shame."
Others similarly said they had attended to provide security or support, particularly in showing their appreciation for the family's sacrifice.
"I just feel that he gave his life for the country and we need to be here for him and to support his family," said Cheryl Morehouse of Stamford, Vt. "I don't know, I just needed to be here."
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Trumble of North Adams also said didn't know the family but was there to support the community.
"I do feel it is very heartening, but not surprising," he said of the turnout. "I've been all around the United States and the support that the country has given veterans in the last 10 or 15 years has been heartening."
Above, final goodbyes; below, DeMarsico's alma mater, Drury High, can be seen on the hill above the cemetery.
Inside the filled church, floral arrangements of red, white and blue flowers flanked the podium behind the casket. Among those attending were Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, state Secretary of Veterans Services Coleman Nee, Alcombright and Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi, the Berkshire state delegation, city councilors including Council President Michael Bloom and former Mayor John Barrett III, Sheriff Thomas Bowler, and other local, state officials and military officials.
The procession stopped briefly at the Veterans Memorial before making its way through the downtown to Southview Cemetery, where the Patriot Guard once again lined the cemetery lane with a display of waving flags.
Cars were packed into the skating rink parking lot to make room; people could be seen watching high above from Drury High School, from which DeMarsico had graduated in 2010.
Folded American flags were ceremonially touched to the casket and presented to the family by Lanza and DeMarsico was given a military salute. In a poignant moment, his parents and siblings each placed a yellow rose on the casket and kissed it. The silence was shattered only by soft sobs from the gathering.
Anderson had earlier assured the DeMarsicos that their concern that the world had missed out on their son was not true.
"The world did not miss out on Michael," he said. "The events of this week testify to that and we and your family will never, ever forget."
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