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A day to remember smiles and semper fi

Friends and fellow Marines pay tribute to Iraq casualty
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
BY LAURA JOHNSTON
Star-Ledger Staff

Friends, classmates and more than 100 Marines came to Hanover Township yesterday to honor a fallen Marine.

Friends who came to the visitation said 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove III was a Marine's Marine, a jokester with a constant smile and non-stop chatter who turned "Ooh-rah!" the moment he donned his uniform.

"He wanted to do this," said 1st Sgt. William Meisinger, who has been assigned to help Cosgrove's family. "There was no other Marine in the company who wanted to do this as much as he did."

Cosgrove, a Hanover resident and a 2001 graduate of Whippany Park High School, was killed by a suicide bomber Oct. 1 at a checkpoint outside Fallujah in Iraq.

Marines directed traffic yesterday and stood sentry at the entrance of Birchwood Manor, a banquet hall where the visitation was held. Members of numerous police departments, including Boonton police, members of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office and other officials also paid their respects.

Inside, next to a slideshow of Cosgrove's life, his camouflage helmet stood atop his rifle, his silver dog tags hanging above his desert boots.

Photographs of a grinning Cosgrove flashed by -- in a black robe, graduating last year from Monmouth University; in a wetsuit at the beach; in his Marine dress blues, with his fiancée.

"I think a lot of us when we're talking about Chris, everyone talks about how he made us smile," said childhood friend Craig Vagell, who wore his Cedar Knolls Fire Department uniform. "Chris has impacted a lot of us."

Although Cosgrove was a reservist with G Company of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, based at Picatinny Arsenal, he was ordered to Iraq with a unit based in Ayer, Mass. Cosgrove arrived in Iraq in March and was scheduled to return to the United States this month, Meisinger said.

"Like all little kids, he wanted to be a fireman, a cop, a Marine, a football player," said his uncle, Harry Toupet, of Mine Hill. He had applied to Hanover Township for a position on the police force, family members said.

"He was just a great kid," said Peter Gallo, commandant of the Lance Cpl. Robert Slattery Division of the Marine Corps League, a veterans organization. Cosgrove was elected junior vice commandant of the Hanover Township division, said Gallo, 74, who visited wounded Marines in Bethesda, Md., with Cosgrove.

When Cosgrove received a care package in Iraq, he e-mailed Gallo to say the wounded Marines needed the packages more, Gallo said.

Funeral services are today in St. Vincent Martyr Catholic Church, 26 Green Village Road in Madison, with a motorcade from Hanover preceding the service.

The funeral motorcade will proceed from Bradley-Braviak Funeral Home to Whippany Road, where the Whippany Park band, football team and student government representatives will honor Cosgrove. It will continue on Park Avenue to St. Vincent. After the funeral, the procession will make its way down Ridgedale Avenue to the Gates of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover.

A nationally known anti-gay hate group from Topeka, Kan., plans to picket the funeral. The group, which calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church, believes the deaths of servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan are God's vengeance against American homosexuality.

But in August, New Jersey became the 12th state to pass a law in response to the hate group's activities. The law makes it illegal to picket at any funeral, cemetery service or motorcade. Protesters are required to stay back at least 500 feet, or face up to 18 months in jail and $1,000 in fines.

Police, aware of the new law, set up a space for the protesters about 500 feet from the church.

"We'll have someone keep an eye on them and preserve the dignity of the church ceremony," said Capt. John Trevena of the Madison Police Department.

Cosgrove is survived by his mother, stepfather, two younger half-brothers and his father. He planned to get married next August to Jessica Gurdemir of Staten Island, who wore one of Cosgrove's dog tags around her neck yesterday.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove Memorial Scholarship. The address is: Gina Cinotti, Scholarship Chairperson, Whippany Park High School, 165 Whippany Road, Whippany 07981.

Staff writer Bill Swayze contributed to this report. Laura Johnston may be reached at ljohnston@starledger.com or (973) 539-7910.


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