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AN OUTPOURING OF GRIEF AND LOVE

Veterans, cops and schoolkids honor a gung-ho Marine
Thursday, October 12, 2006
BY LAURA JOHNSTON
Star-Ledger Staff

As the funeral motorcade for Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Benedict Cosgrove III passed through the streets of Morris County yesterday, hundreds of students from five schools lined the route, many holding miniature U.S. flags in one hand, the other hand covering their hearts.

Veterans in American Legion uniform caps saluted the casket as it passed, and dozens of police cruisers from Byram, Elizabeth and elsewhere flashed their lights in the nearly mile-long procession.

Residents watched the procession from their yards, and flags flew at half-staff by order of Gov. Jon Corzine.

When the procession arrived at the church, a sea of Marines was there to say good-bye to Cosgrove, killed Oct. 1 at a checkpoint outside Fallujah, Iraq, by a suicide bomber.

"I really felt like our community pulled together during this tragedy and showed a fitting tribute for this fallen Marine," said Hanover Councilman Len Fariello, who helped organize the procession. "He lost his life for our country."

Cosgrove, a Hanover resident and a 2001 graduate of Whippany Park High School, was the 61st service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Iraq and the first Hanover Township serviceman to die in active duty since 1967.

Yesterday, more than 400 people filled the century-old St. Vincent Martyr Church in Madison, where Cosgrove and his fiancée, Jessica Gurdermir, were to be married next August.

Seven clergymen presided over the Roman Catholic Mass, and six Marines injured while serving with Cosgrove in Iraq carried his flag-draped coffin down the red-carpet aisle to the front of the church.

The flag was removed and a cream-colored pall was placed over the sky-blue casket, covering pictures of fighter planes and the words "Semper Fidelis" -- Always Faithful.

During the somber ceremony, sniffles occasionally interrupted the silence as the Rev. John Laferrera of St. Philomena Catholic Church in Livingston gave a homily from the Gospel of John and a cantor sang "Amazing Grace."

"He loved his country, and he gave 100 percent to his military career," said Laferrera, who knew Cosgrove as a young boy, when he attended St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Caldwell.

After communion, Cosgrove's stepmother, Eileen Cosgrove; pallbearer Sgt. Dan Buckley; his mother, Charlene Bowie; and his fiancée came to the altar, one by one, to read poems and share their memories.

Cosgrove, they said, was a great big brother. A goofy kid chock full of motivation, who grew a mustache to boost Marines' morale. A gentleman.

"My son was the light of our lives," Cosgrove's mother said. "He loved, absolutely loved, to be a Marine."

"He was a true American hero, in every sense of the word," said Gurdermir, an English teacher who lives in Staten Island. She spoke of Cosgrove's devotion to the Marines, as well as his love of paintballing and skiing, cuddling on the couch while watching movies, playing Monopoly and building military models out of Legos.

"Chris had a heart of gold, and I have a wealth of memories," she said, her voice breaking.

Buckley shared stories from his tour in Iraq. Once, after Buckley, a 25-year-old from Howell, complained he was tired, Cosgrove chucked a can of Red Bull energy drink at him.

"Chris was always there with a smile and a joke," said Buckley, his written speech shaking in his hand. "The future was great for my good friend. But God had other plans."

Cosgrove -- who is survived by his mother; his stepfather, Art Bowie; his father, Christopher Cosgrove Jr.; his stepmother; and two half-brothers, Kevin and Brian Cosgrove -- joined the Marines during his junior year at Monmouth University, from which he graduated in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in history.

Although he was a reservist with G Company of the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, based at Picatinny Arsenal, he was ordered to Iraq with its sister unit, based in Plainville, Conn.

Cosgrove arrived in Iraq in March and was scheduled to return to the United States this month. After he died, he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Purple Heart and Iraq Campaign Medal.

After the funeral, as a solemn bell tolled at St. Vincent Martyr, a motorcade of dozens of motorcycles, police cars and mourners' vehicles proceeded from the church to Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover.

At the cemetery, a Marine Corps guard fired a three-shot salute before Buckley and two other Marines presented Gurdermir and Cosgrove's parents with flags folded into perfect triangles.

Gurdermir, with two of Cosgrove's young relatives, released three mylar balloons -- a red heart and blue and white stars -- into the overcast sky.

His mother lay her cheek on the casket briefly, the family lay red roses on top, and as Marine Corps bagpipers played the Marines' Hymn, friends filed by, pausing to touch the coffin one last time.

Laura Johnston may be reached at ljohnston@starledger.com or (973) 539-7910.


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