The crowed spilled out onto the sidewalk at the Armory on Ashland Street. Despite the sun, the temperatures were frigid. See more photos here.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A determined student. A mischievous teenager. A brave warrior. An honored native son.
Army Spc. Michael DeMarsico II was many things in his short life. Now his memory is etched in bronze forever with the dedication of monument to the sacrifice he made for his country and his comrades.
A few hundred people braved Saturday's bitter cold for the dedication of a plaque and stone in his honor at the North Adams Armory Center. DeMarsico's life was cut short in 2012 during a patrol in Afghanistan. He was walking point along the road, searching for improvised explosive devices.
"It's important that we're here," said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, calling Iraq and Afghanistan the wars of "our" generation and saying he'd lost a friend in Afghanistan not long before DeMarsico had been posted there.
A former Middle East negotiator with a United Nations team in Iraq, he remembered going into coalition camp and his guide listing off how to tell the different nations apart. The Americans were the easiest to spot, the guide, said because they're uniforms were crisper and they were bigger and stronger.
"'They have more courage and you're going to know it right away when you see it' and that was Michael," he said. "And that's the courage that's this generation's opportunity to display. It's our generation's time to step up an serve and that's what Michael did for each and every one of you .... that's why this dedication is so critical."
The concept of a memorial for DeMarsico had been considered for a few years. Mayor Richard Alcombright, who is ending his term in December, wanted to make sure it was done before he left. He and the family chose the Armory, which is nearing the end of more than a decade of renovation.
His parents, Lisa and Michael DeMarsico, pulled the gold star covering off the white, glittering stone that rests on the Armory's lawn at Porter and Ashland Street as Alcombright read off the words cast onto the bronze plaque alongside their son's image.
"A people are held together by bigger things than we as individuals ... we are and always should be a nation of giving thanks," the Rev. David Anderson had entoned. "Monuments are erected to help us forever remember the heroes among us who served and sacrificed with honor."
Anderson, of First Baptist Church, said the greatest honor of his life had been speak at DeMarsico's service, which had drawn hundreds to Monument Square.
Many of those who attended the dedication had walked from the American Legion, where a short service was held inside because of the weather. Massachusetts American Legion Vice Commander Anthony Dias of Fall River spoke about what Veterans Day means.
"Once you're in the service it seems to me you never leave," he said, adding he'd been a member of the Legion for 39 years. "You may have gotten out of the service but your service still continues."
He asked those veterans in the gathering to stand and be recognized, and their families "because we know they have had a difficult time carrying the heavy load of keeping the home fires burning."
Veterans share a number of fundamental qualities no matter their backgrounds, Dias said. "They possess courage, pride, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity. All the qualities needed to serve a cause wiser than ones self ...
"They didn't go to war because they liked fighting they were called to be part of something bigger than themselves."
North Adams' ceremony was just one of many being held across the country to remember the sacrifices that have been made, he said, from the wintry depths of Valley Forge to the jungles of Vietnam and to the young men and women now patroling mountains of Afghanistan and Iraq.
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, speaking at the DeMarsico dedication, noted that Afghanistan has now become America's the longest conflict, entering its 16th year.
It was individuals like DeMarsico who have served with great distinction and guaranteed the freedoms that Americans enjoy, he said. For most, life will go on but the DeMarsicos will have the memory of how their son was honored every time they go by the Armory. It was critical that the nation not only honor the lost but remember its commitment to those who return from service.
"That's an important part of our responsibility collectively and individually, not the pat on the back when they go but it's the acknowledgement when they return," he said.
Alcombright read a letter from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren that was accompanied by an American flag that had been flown over the Capitol Building. The flag was presented to the DeMarsicos by Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Sheehan, who served as their casualty assistance officer and is now a close family friend.
Boy Scout Troop 1088 raised a flag on the new flagpole installed last week, the first time in years that a flag has flown over the former National Guard building, and the Girl Scouts lead the Pledge of Allegiance.The Drury band performed as well.
A number of dignitaries attended including Mayor-elect Thomas Bernard, current councilors and councilors-elect, a representative from the governors office and local leaders. Bennett Walsh, superintendent of the Soldier's Home in Holyoke, was expected to attend but was unable to make it.
State Rep.-elect John Barrett III also offered some words, noting that DeMarsico had been the city's first military casualty in 50 years, since his own friend, Peter W. Foote, was killed in Vietnam. The skating rink was dedicated in his name seven years ago.
"The reason we are here today, too, is because the veterans of this community said we have to save this building," the former mayor said. "Not for the youth center, not for the basketball court, but because of the memory of Company K and the people who served our country in World War II."
Melanie Rancourt, a close friend of the family, taught Demarsico in the Positive Options Program, an alternative academic program for high school students at Berkshire Community College. She remembered how determined the Drury High student was to complete the program and how dignified he was as a campus security intern, though he still liked to sneak in watching football videos over school work or spending a few extra minutes with friends.
And she recalled how he asked a caricaturist on the campus to draw him in uniform. It had always been her fear that a student she'd taught would join the military and be killed overseas; she didn't know if she could continue teaching if that happened. That fear came on true on that August day five years ago when she learned that her student had died.
"I spent the summer questioning my career ... but Lisa told me I had helped a young boy become a man, a man who wanted to defend this country at all costs," Rancourt said.
"I made a difference and I helped Michael make a difference, too, even though it hurt," she told the somber gathering. "So Michael as you look down on this dedication today, I miss our talks when I saw your green dot on Facebook. I know you were doing well and I hope you know that this city is proud of everything you have done, because you know I am."
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