December 16, 2010

A Town Honors a Hero

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Pinkerton Academy’s school community mounted a touching farewell Wednesday for one of its own — Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Geary, 20, a 2009 graduate of the school who died in combat last week in Afghanistan.
Headmaster Mary Anderson made her way yesterday from her office, walking briskly past rows and rows of her students standing shoulder to shoulder in the sub-freezing temperatures. As she headed toward the top of the hill by the clock tower, where students were unfurling flags, there was little more she could do or say than to cry.
 “This is so hard,” said Anderson, her lip quivering as she fought to compose herself.
“Michael gave the ultimate sacrifice, and this is a really rough day for all of us.” 
The entire student body assembled as the hearse detoured through Derry and made a slow pass through Pinkerton’s campus before heading to Peabody Funeral Home in Londonderry. 
Word of Geary's death, and the planned tribute, brought out a throng of residents as well – many of them parents of past and current Pinkerton students.
Among them, Jeff Cue, who walked alone down Route 28 carrying an American flag.
“I didn’t know him,” said Cue, who got quiet for a long minute. “But I was moved by his sacrifice. My son is a student here, and my daughter is a graduate — and my dad was a retired Army colonel — so yes, it hits pretty close to home. 
Nicole Kneeland and Colleen Goulding had arrived at the school at 11 a.m. – two hours before the hearse was schedule to arrive. Geary graduated a year after Goulding's son and a year ahead of her daughter.
“My daughter wanted to be here so bad, but she couldn't get out of finals today at UNH,” Goulding said.
“When you see this happen to someone from Derry, you come,” said Kneeland.
At about 12:45 p.m. All 3,100 students were released from their classrooms and assembled along the roadway where the convoy of cars would be traveling from the airport – south on Route 28 and then cutting up through the main campus, turning toward East Broadway, past Central Fire Station and MacGregor Park, where other groups were gathered.
Sophomore Diamond Chaplin, dressed in her JROTC blues, clutched the edge of a flag as she waited for the procession. She said she was devastated by the news, but proud of her school for paying last respects as a community. 
“It might not put his parents at ease, but I think it will help a little, that we’re here,” said Diamond, who plans to join the Air Force in two years, upon graduation. 
At 1 p.m. a Derry police cruiser rounded the corner onto school grounds and the bell in the clock tower began to toll. A hush fell over the crowd of students, parents and faculty, flags flapping in the breeze, as the hearse rolled along in slow motion, followed by two dozen cars and a contingency of Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles.
Anderson and Aherns stood, hands over their hearts, alongside a Derry Fire Department honor guard. Members of the JROTC stood at attention, some holding flags, all of them frozen in a solemn salute.
The hearse never stopped; no words were spoken in the 20-year-old Geary’s honor — just the sound of the bell, tolling for one of Pinkerton’s sons. Afterward, students quietly made their way back to class. 
Senior Chastity Torres said she felt for the family, having herself lost a cousin to war in the past year. 
“It’s heart-wrenching. It hurts so bad. But we have to be supportive for Michael’s family,” Torres said. 
“It was a fitting tribute,” said sophomore Steffan Brown. “I hope the family knows they aren't alone. I hope that helps a little bit.”
Alyssa Braley, a 2010 Pinkerton grad and former classmate of Geary’s, walked a path toward her car with her mom, Janice Braley, who’d carried the family’s weather-worn flag to the tribute. 
“I was in sophomore math class with Mike,” said Alyssa Braley. “He was the sweetest kid. One time he told me that I always looked so sad when I came into class, and after that, he would text me every day, just to tell me to smile.” 
“It was a beautiful tribute,” said Janice Braley. “As I stood there, all I could do was think of his mother. I could see a young girl inside one of the cars, and she was sobbing so hard she couldn’t catch her breath. I hope they realize how much we all care — I know it’s hard, but I hope they know that Mike would want them to go on.” 

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