Thank you for being our hero, Mike.
We love you, Mike.
It’s not good-bye. We’ll see you soon.
These heartfelt expressions and many more rose into the air Sunday night behind a bouquet of red, white and blue balloons, many marked with messages from friends and family, released during a memorial in Drury High School’s parking lot to honor U.S. Army Pfc. Michael DeMarsico, a city native killed Aug. 16 in Afghanistan.
Several hundred people joined DeMarsico’s family and friends for the memorial, which was organized on Facebook by two of his friends, Robert Grandchamp and Michael Reardon.
"On behalf of my family and all of you, thank you for being here for Michael. Fly to heaven, baby," Laurie Douglas, DeMarsico’s aunt, said before the crowd streamed into the parking lot with lit candles.
The votives were placed on the blacktop, outlining and surrounding a message written in chalk: "Thank you, Mike." These words were framed by drawings of a heart, a soldier’s salute and a pair of hands praying.
DeMarsico, 20, was killed Aug. 16 in Panjwa’l, Afghani stan, after being wounded by an enemy improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Bri gade Combat Team, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Details of funeral services have not yet been announced.
After the candles were placed
Rev. David Anderson, of the First Baptist Church of North Adams, offered words of comfort and led those gathered in prayer.
"We use the word ‘hero’ when we look at a lot of different people in our day-to-day lives," Anderson said. " ... But tonight, I think we’re reminded of the reality that there is a level of hero that goes beyond anything we’ve come to understand. ... There are those heroes that aspire to serve their country nobly, to travel around the globe to desolate places for no other reason than to protect who we are and what we have. Tonight we gather to remember and to give thanks for one such hero."
Anderson’s words were followed by a moment of silence. Dozens of American flags were placed alongside the candles by members of the crowd, and DeMarsico’s family, gathered among the lights and flags, later released the balloons.
Grandchamp and Reardon, both 20 and residents of the city who graduated from Drury with DeMarsico in 2010 and knew him since the age of 5, said in an interview Sunday that what started as a simple idea quickly gained surprising momentum.
"It absolutely just blew up," Reardon said of the memorial. "So many people came to pay their respects. It’s just unbelievable."
"I personally feel everybody from Berkshire County and beyond should be here for this kid. He’s a true hero," Grandchamp said. "But as far as the turnout, I couldn’t be more happy. ... I think [DeMarsico’s] got nothing less than a huge grin on his face."
"Anybody who risks their lives for our well-being and our country should be honored like this and even more than this," Reardon said. "Never forget what he did for our country. Never forget his name, who he was and what he did."
Follow Michael J. Foster on Twitter: @NAT_DigitalMike