NORTH ADAMS - When U. S. Army Pfc. Michael DeMarsico was deployed to Afghanistan in February, his mother, Lisa, placed his blue star service banner and a light in one of the family's Bracewell Avenue windows, vowing to keep it there until he returned home from his deployment.
It's a pledge family members say the grieving mother intends to keep even after learning of her son's death early Friday morning.
"Michael was tragically killed doing what he loved," Laurie Douglas said Friday while clutching a picture of her nephew during an interview at City Hall. "He was a hero that was deployed to Afghanistan and who has now been deployed to heaven. He's just standing at a different gate."
DeMarsico, 20, was due to complete his first tour of duty in December, the same month when he would celebrate his 21st birthday. According to Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, a city police officer accompanied military personnel to the home of his parents, Lisa and Michael DeMarsico, at 1 a.m. on Friday. DeMarsico was killed by an improvised explosive device, he said.
"It's a tragic day in the city. We've certainly had our share of untimely deaths in the last few weeks, but this hits the community very, very hard," Alcombright said Friday afternoon. "We're all heartbroken for the DeMarsico family. Michael truly died a hero while serving his country in Afghanistan. In this community, where we are so close, with about 13,000 people or so, everybody knows everybody. He will be missed. It's a devastating day and the next couple weeks will be hard as well."
The mayor ordered flags on city property to be flown at half-staff Friday and said they will remain there "until ceremonies are completed."
Douglas said that in his last correspondence with his father, DeMarsico said he had recently accepted a position at the front of his unit "to protect them from any bombs."
"Michael always put other people before himself. He'd do anything for anyone. That's why he was there," she said.
A 2010 graduate of Drury High School, DeMarsico, was serving with the 11th Bravo Infantry Division of the U.S. Army at the time of his death. He enlisted in the Army after graduation, fulfilling a life-long dream, according to family and friends.
"Ever since Michael was a little boy, he wanted to be in the Army," Douglas said. "He was always playing with little toy soldiers and trucks. He wanted to be in the infantry."
Kristina Babcock, another aunt, and his uncle, Glen DeMarsico, also spoke of his dream of serving in the military. "He has several family members - uncles - who are in the Army or the military," Babcock said.
Drury High School Principal Amy Meehan described DeMarsico as a "very talented" young man who excelled in the areas of technology and engineering and was passionate about joining the Army.
"I remember, as far back as his sophomore and junior years, that Michael had a vision and steadfast goal of serving his country," she said. "I remember being in meetings with his parents, who were always very supportive of his goal. Our thoughts are with his family."
His youngest sister, Leigha, a student at Brayton Elementary School, marched with Alcombright in the city's Memorial Day parade.
" Leigha was so passionate about her brother being overseas that she really took an interest in local veterans," the mayor said. "She was planting flags on veterans graves on Memorial Day. After learning about this, my immediate thought was of Leigha."
Babcock said the youngest of the DeMarsico's five children was doing as well as could be expected.
"She has her two older sisters and her older brother who are there for her," she said.
Douglas added, " She's a strong little girl. She's trying to be tough for her family."
DeMarsico is the first city native to be killed in combat since the death of Peter W. Foote, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War. He is the second Berkshire Country resident to die in Afghanistan. Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel J. Petithory Jr., 32, was killed by "friendly fire" on Dec. 5, 2001, while serving in Afghanistan.
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