Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Anthony Melia laid to rest

WESTLAKE VILLAGE - Last year, Anthony Melia returned to his alma mater at Thousand Oaks High School proudly wearing his crisp U.S. Marines uniform.

He would soon be sent off to fight for his country in Iraq, and he couldn't have been more enthusiastic.

"He talked of his excitement in serving his country," said Teri Sanders, Melia's English teacher. "He was showing through his courageous actions what love is. He had a contagious smile that would light up a room."

Memories of that smile brought even the toughest of marines to tears Monday as more than 1,000 people paid tribute to Melia, 20, who was killed Jan. 27 while fighting in al-Anbar Province, becoming the first person from Thousand Oaks killed in the Iraq War.

Residents lined the streets as a procession carried Melia's body to Calvary Community Church. There, family and friends talked of his personal warmth and devotion to his community and his nation.

"He was just an amazing, rare individual who did more in 20 years than many do in their lifetimes," said Melia's cousin, Frank Melia Jr. "Anthony was a hero and he will never be forgotten. He provided us with an example of how to live. ... He was a fearless warrior."

Anthony Melia's fiance, Jaime Chunko, said he will be her true love forever.
"I know he is still here with me - my guardian angel," she said.

His family was presented with a Purple Heart during the ceremony.

It was clear from an early age that Melia was mature beyond his years and wanted to protect his friends and family. He was particularly affected as a teenager by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when he became dedicated to joining the armed services.

After graduating in 2005 from Thousand Oaks High - where he was known for his speed as a wide receiver and defensive back on the football team - he joined the Marines at age 18.

He belonged to the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and was sent to Iraq on Sept. 13. Details about his death have not been released, except that he was shot to death during combat.

Monday's funeral was preceded by a procession with Melia's family and a police escort through the streets of Thousand Oaks.

Thousands of people emerged from schools, homes, businesses and City Hall, many waving flags to express their support.

"They stopped what they were doing and came out to pay their respects for his service and his heroism," Mayor Andrew Fox said.

Thousand Oaks police Sgt. Jim Kenney, who helped lead the procession, said it was remarkable to see so many people lining the streets.

"It was an honor for us," he said.

As a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," marines carried Melia's casket into the church. Inside, a series of photos showed his progression from athletic boy to heroic member of the military.

"I am overwhelmed with this outpouring of compassion," said his grandfather, Charles Melia.

Byron Sells Jr., a 17-year-old Westlake High School student and friend of Melia's, said a great tribute was paid to his buddy.

"He's a very honored person in this community," Sells said. "He will always be remembered in our hearts."

From the Daily News

Related Link:
Anthony C. Melia slain by sniper