LEE -- U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sgt. Edward S. Passetto was laid to rest on Friday morning, earning acknowledgment from God, his country and his local community.
Members of all military branches were represented outside St. Mary's Church, about 30 men in uniforms lining each side of the walkway to the entrance.
On the downtown sidewalk of Main Street, members of the Here at Home Committee passed out American flags to more than three dozen mourners. Veterans and military parents, state and local dignitaries, even strangers lined up to salute the motorcade ushering Passetto's casket, six pallbearers and his family members.
The motorcade included local and state police as well as motorcyclists from The American Legion Riders, Massachusetts Chapter, District 1 at Post 155 from Dalton.
Further down the road, a large flag was suspended over the street by a crane from a local lumber company.
"It's a good day for Ed," said Bill Abderhalden, a proud Marine Corps father from Lee, who joined the procession salute. His son, also named Bill, was stationed in Yuma, Ariz., with Passetto.
"This hits home," Abderhalden said.
The Catholic funeral was attended by more than 100 people.
St. Mary's music director Sandy Cummings conducted Colleen Free through several selection of music, including, "Amazing Grace." Joseph Sicotte of Berkshire Community College, where Passetto was a student and a member of the college's Student Veterans Alliance, sang the Bach/ Gounod arrangement of "Ave Maria," and later sang the national anthem at the burial.
Passetto was laid to rest at St. Mary's Cemetery near his father, the late Michael J. Passetto, an Army serviceman. St. Mary's Deacon Bob Dignan who is also senior vice commandant of Marine Corps League Detachment 137 of Pittsfield, led graveside prayer, followed by the folding and presentation of the flag by two Marines, and a three-volley rifle salute by Post 155.
It was a prominent display of the care, compassion and honor that the Berkshire County community has for this young man.
Passetto, a Pittsfield resident who just turned 28 years old last month, had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, and ultimately succumbed to suicide. His body was found last Saturday morning, halfway down Monument Mountain in Great Barrington.
He had served seven years stationed in Yuma working as an aircraft mechanic for AV-8B Harrier jets. He also did tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, and was decorated with medals for his time and action.
Passetto's life was altered in July 2009, when he, with previous injuries, responded to a fiery helicopter crash in Kandahar Airfield where he was working at the time. The crash killed 16 civilians. Passetto was credited with pulling two of the only five survivors to safety. From that point on, his struggles with mental health began.
In his own writings, he said he felt increasingly frustrated by the fact that two years after filing for disabilities claims from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, he had received nothing.
During his sermon for Friday's funeral service, the Rev. Jack Sheaffer, pastor of St. Mary's Church, he called Edward Passetto a "hero" who "gave us his life and labor and love."
The pastor also acknowledged the issues Passetto and others in the U.S. struggle with when faced with unbearable stress and pain.
"The death of someone who took their own life in their hands it's not the kind of death we want for ourselves or our loved ones. Here we are, the survivors, having to come to grips with why, but we are not alone," said
He noted how more than a half-million people in the U.S. attempt suicide each year, and 30,000 complete it.
"It happens to every kind of person, no matter where they are, or what they look like," he said.
The Catholic Church used to declare suicide a sin and once denied those who had died by suicide a Catholic service and burial. The church has since amended and eased its stance, and considers people struggling with mental health disorders to not have an awareness of committing a sin.
"We must open our hearts with compassion for Ed and to the pain he felt," said Sheaffer.
The pastor also encouraged people, in their grief, to be open in discussing what happened and seek support.
"Don't let shame and silence get the upper hand," he said. "You will survive."
Passetto's death is the second military-related death to hit Berkshire County this week. U.S. Army Spc. Mitchell Daehling of Dalton was killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday. Back in March, hundreds of mourners lined Main Street in Lenox to honor Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., who was killed during training exercises in Nevada and was buried at St. Ann's cemetery.
Cindy Raymond of Lee, an Army veteran, and Susan Shufelt-Jacobsson of Dalton, an Air Force veteran's wife, are both members of The American Legion Riders, Massachusetts Chapter, District 1 at Post 155 from Dalton. The motorcycle riders' group has participated in escorts for the bodies of Passetto and U.S. Army Pfc. Michael R. DeMarsico II, 20, of North Adams, who was killed last August by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan.
"We just hope to bring some attention to the veterans and soldiers and to support their needs," said Raymond.
"They need more attention," Shufelt-Jacobsson said.
Friends still wishing to may make donations in the memory of Edward S. Passetto may do so to Soldier On of Pittsfield in c/o the Kelly Funeral Home, 3 Main Street, Lee, MA 01238. Those wishing to share messages of condolence or pictures or stories with the Passetto family may do so by visiting www.kellyfuneralhome.net.
To reach Jenn Smith:
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