|Lance Cpl. Michael Geary poses with his mother, Nancy, at his swearing-in ceremony.|
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- At 20, Lance Cpl. Michael Geary was a man who had made his dream come true, those closest to him said yesterday.The Derry Marine was killed in action in Afghanistan Wednesday morning, five months into his first deployment.
“He always wanted to be a Marine because he would always say they were the best,” said Michael Geary’s mother, Nancy.Her son had set his sights on the U.S. Marine Corps by the time he was 14, the Derry woman said.
After years of that intense focus, she said Geary was more than ready when he left home for boot camp in North Carolina in July 2009, one month after graduating from Pinkerton Academy.
“He was a model Marine and knew exactly what he was doing,” she said Thursday. “He understood everything about the Marines — the good and the bad.”
Geary had been serving with the 2nd infantry battalion, 9th Marines Fox Company, in Afghanistan since July, the family said. His tour was expected to end in February.
Few details about the circumstances of his death have been released.
Geary’s body will be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Friday morning. Funeral arrangements have yet to be made.
Gov. John Lynch commended Geary’s sacrifice in a statement Thursday.
“He is a true New Hampshire hero,” Lynch said. “All of us here in New Hampshire are deeply saddened by the loss of such a brave, young man.”
Family members said Geary was committed to serving on the front lines, especially if it meant a Marine with a spouse or children wouldn’t have to.
“He said he wanted to be at the front lines in the infantry,” said Geary’s uncle, Angus Douglas of Londonderry. “At times if he was encouraged to not be at the front lines, he said, ‘Don’t even talk to me about that. I need to be where I’m needed.’” Nancy Geary said her son often talked about making an effort to reach out to the Afghan people during his deployment, especially the local children he met along the way.
“He read a book on the culture so he could try not to offend anyone and try to make them understand that he wasn’t there to hurt them,” she said.
Ultimately, Geary planned to return home and become a police officer while continuing with the Marine Reserves.
“I think he just liked the thought of protecting people,” Nancy Geary said.
Though Geary was serious about his service, family members said he will also be remembered for his sense of humor.
“He was a real practical joker,” said Geary’s aunt, Krista Cole of Boston, Mass. “He loved to goof on his grandmothers and his aunts. He was always sneaking up on us.”
And in one heartfelt trick last winter, Geary and his family coordinated a last-minute trip home from base camp in North Carolina for Christmas, where he surprised his mother while she was working her shift at a local hospital.
“He flew overnight just so he could surprise her,” Douglas said. “He loved doing that.”
Friends described Geary as a loyal friend who was always fun, but focused on his goals.
“He was a very proud person and always wanted to please people and serve his country,” said 19-year-old Matthew Sweeney of Hampstead, who became friends with Geary in high school. “He was the bravest man I ever knew. I’ve lost a brother and a best friend.”
Though Geary had no siblings, Douglas said he was a big brother to his 17-year-old cousin, Luke Douglas of Londonderry, even naming the teen as a beneficiary in his will.
“Michael was (Luke’s) hero,” said Douglas. “He dragged him out of his shell and Luke just wanted to make him proud.”
Geary held a black belt in karate, was an avid runner and played freshman football at Pinkerton Academy, where teachers said he regularly talked about the Marines.
“He was on the verge of his life,” said Paula Vaughn, who taught Geary’s family relations class at the school. “This was his dream. Everything he did revolved around that.” Pinkerton teacher Sandy Anderson said she last saw Geary during a quick visit he made to campus last winter.
“What struck us was that he wasn’t a high school kid anymore,” Anderson said. “He was a man. He was so proud and we were so proud of him.”