LENOX -- More than 1,000 mourners paid their respects Friday to a U.S. Marine who was killed last week during training exercises in Nevada.
A somber procession down Main Street escorted the coffin of Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr. to St. Ann's Cemetery following a funeral at St. Ann's Parish.
As the hearse passed, police officers saluted and many onlookers covered their hearts with their hands.
A Westport, Conn., resident and grandson of Bob and Mary Ann Coakley of Lenox, Muchnick, 23, was one of eight Marines who died when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube.
The funeral drew a contingent of Marines and other military service men and women, along with police from Muchnick's hometown in Connecticut.
Muchnick's maternal grandfather, Bob Coakley, made the final comments.
"It was a wonderful service," Coakley said following the graveside ceremony. "And three of the Marines who served with ‘R.J.' [Muchnik] drove straight through from Camp Lejeune to be here. They really did a good job of lifting our spirits. But we've still got such a hole in our lives ..."
Catholic clergy led the crowd through downtown Lenox, and included the Rev. Christopher J. Waitekus, pastor at St. Ann; Bishop Timothy McDonnell from the Diocese of Springfield; the Rev. Daniel B. Brunton, pastor Emeritus of St. Ann; and the Rev. Daniel J. Boyle, pastor of Blessed John Paul II Parish in Adams.
They were followed by about 50 Marines marching in formation in full dress uniform. Behind them walked hundreds of mourners. In front of the procession were the hearse and limousines carrying family members.
The police escort included members of the Westport (Conn.) Police Department, the town in which Muchnick was raised and graduated high school, where he became known for playing soccer and lacrosse.
Westport Police Officer Ned Batlin was there as part of the police escort. Batlin, one of the coaches of Muchnick's Staples High School lacrosse team, noted that in Westport, after the news of his death, a makeshift memorial sprang up across from Town Hall with flowers, mementos, soccer balls and a lacrosse stick.
"He was an intense, athletic young man," Batlin said. "He was very funny, and very popular with the team."
News of his passing was hard for many people in town, he added.
"It was devastating to lose a young man like that, a young man who's done the right things," Batlin said. "It's real sad -- he made the ultimate sacrifice."
One of the Marines who served with Muchnick in Kuwait and came into town from Camp Lejeune, Cpl. Cory Aguillard, said Muchnick was a pleasure to serve with and was loved by his platoon.
"Roger was a charismatic, very adventurous and loving person," Aguillard said. "He was the kind of guy who would take over the room when he walked in. His outlook on life was awesome. And he was also quite a prankster -- always trying to get one up on you."
Aguillard was at Camp Lejeune when the accident happened. They waited through much of that day to find out if they knew any of the victims, and when they heard that Muchnick had been lost, "for the rest of the day, we were trying to put the pieces back together. It was one of the worst feelings ever."
During the church service, more than a dozen members of the Berkshire County Here At Home Committee stood in line outside, each holding a flag.
"For the last few years, we've been welcoming soldiers home -- a much more joyous event," noted Kathryn Mickle, chairwoman of the committee. "This young man, as does everyone in the military, wrote a blank check to the U.S., up to and including his life. So we wanted to stand and recognize the sacrifice he has made, and the sacrifice his family has made."
Residents from around Berkshire County lined the sidewalks during the funeral procession to honor the Marine.
"I just wanted to pay my respects to a fallen soldier," said Barbara Terry of Pittsfield, a mother of two sons who served in the Air Force. "Whether it was in combat or not, he died in the line of duty serving his country."
At the gravesite, Muchnick was afforded full military honors. In the grave next to Muchnick's rests his uncle, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Coakley, who was piloting a a plane over North Vietnam in 1966 when he was shot down. He was listed as missing in action until the Vietnamese returned his remains in 1989.
During his years in the Marines, Muchnick served two tours of duty -- the first in Afghanistan and the second in Kuwait. Muchnick was one of eight members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed March 18, when the mortar shell exploded during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Seven others were injured.
The accident that killed Muchnick resulted in a suspension of the use of 60 mm mortars by the Marine Corps. The suspension will be in effect until the accident investigation is complete. The eight Marines killed ranged in age from 19 to 26. Some had served overseas. Others were training for their first deployment.
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