Derek Gentile: Servicemen deserving of our respect

Friday May 17, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- In 2004, I met Edward S. Passetto, the local veteran who, unfortunately, committed suicide last week in Great Barrington.

He had graduated from Lee High School a few months earlier, but that was not really why we talked. I met Passetto at an event for him and nine other local young men who had volunteered for the Marines and were soon to be deployed.

Passetto was one of several who were to be heading out to Afghanistan.

He was polite, he was thoughtful and he was realistic. I remember when I asked him his thoughts about being sent overseas to a war zone. He admitted that he was nervous about it, but that anyone who volunteers for the armed forces in these times had darn well better expect to be sent to a bad place.

I liked him and admired him. He was doing something that I’m not sure I would have had the fortitude to do.

In fact, I enjoyed talking with all of the young men on that December afternoon in Lee.

There is, at times, an impression that the soldiers who opt to volunteer for the military are somehow deficient. Perhaps they aren’t as bright as the college boys. Maybe a little foolhardy. Maybe they’re in search of adventure.

The more I talked to Passetto and his fellow soldiers, the more I understood that such was not the case that day. In fact, I suspect that is rarely the case anymore.

Set aside the fact that the U.S. military is easily the most sophisticated in the world, and that there is no room for dumbbells. Set aside that there are plenty of non-military ways to find adventure in the world.

No, these guys were all signing on for one reason: A very strong desire to serve their country. I would hope that those who disparage our young people as layabouts and worse will read this and understand what I’m saying.

There is hope for the future as long as we have people like Edward Passetto and the other soldiers I met that day coming out of our communities to serve.

I discovered, for instance, that 9/11 had a deep impact on the young men with whom I spoke. Most of the guys I talked to, including Passetto, remembered very well that terrifying day. And all the Americans who were killed. Older folks who recall that day don’t realize how deeply that attack resonated with individuals who were in high school or younger. It was scary. It was horrible.

And the people I met in that room, including Edward Passetto, opted to face that fear, to face that enemy, and try to do something about it.

I remember very vividly, just before I got into my car, asking God, whom I do not ask much of, to keep all those young men in the palm of His hand.

I’m too much of a sinner to expect all of my prayers to be answered, but I had hoped that afternoon that this one might be.


I kept wanting to devote a whole column to Saturday’s Guitar Jam event, but the real world got in the way this year. I’m excited about Saturday night, because there will be a lot of talented musicians on the Colonial Theatre stage.

I confess that I’ve had a little sneak preview of the material we will hear, and, well, there are going to be a few "Holy, guacamole!" moments, I promise. Any time you can get musicians as accomplished as Arthur Holmes, Robin O’Herin, Bobby Sweet and Steve Ide, not to mention the folks who play with them, on one stage, you have a tremendous show.

I’m serious. If you can make it, I guarantee you will enjoy it. This is the cream of the local music crop.

Eagle staffer Derek Gentile can be reached at or (413) 496-6251.


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