Sunday, April 08, 2007

Miguel Marcial remembered

Diane Cabrera knew just what to say when asked about her son Miguel Marcial III.

"Miguel had a kind heart," she said last week. "He was a positive person and a great son. He always had a big smile on his face."

After word spread around town of Marcial's death, people praised his personality and character.

"He was a nice young man who never really caused a problem in school. He had many friends and enjoyed life," remembered Patrick Impreveduto, principal of Secaucus High School.

Marcial attended the school until the 11th grade, then transferred to the New Jersey National Guard Challenge Youth Program at Fort Dix. The year-long program is an alternative way to receive a high school diploma. He graduated the program in August 2005.

After one semester at Hudson County Community College, Marcial made a decision that shocked Mike Kelly, Marcial's English teacher and mentor at Secaucus High School.

"He came to me one day and said 'Mr. Kelly, I want to join the Marines,' " Kelly said. "I was taken aback. He never told me that he wanted to pursue this, even after a whole year at Fort Dix. I didn't try to talk him out of it, but I did say that there was a war on. He said that he was sure and really felt right about it."

Marcial, better known to his friends and teachers as Mike, stayed in touch with Kelly while he went through basic training at Parris Island in South Carolina, followed by additional training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He completed his training there in January, and then was shipped out to Iraq the first week of March.

In fact, Mike stopped by the high school to say goodbye right before he left for overseas.

"He looked wonderful in his uniform," Impreveduto said. "He was all happy to see everyone."

Kelly received a phone call from Iraq a week from last Friday.

Mike had a basic request for his old teacher that would have been just as suited for a college dorm.

"He was having trouble getting through to his mom, so he asked me for socks," Kelly remembered, laughing. "I told him I'd take care of it. He also asked to make sure that his bank account was full. He wanted to make sure he wasn't getting stiffed on pay."

Memories of Mike

Faculty and students alike at Secaucus High School were rich with memories of Mike.

"In my class, Mike invented a game called 'vocabulary basketball,' " Kelly said. "He was only about 5'4," but he was an amazing basketball player. So he brings in this little made up bucket and ball. If you get the vocabulary word right and you make the basket, you get an extra point on my quiz. We didn't do it everyday, but he got the kids interested."

"The girls loved him," Impreveduto said.

"That smile of his was amazing," Kelly said. "The ladies did love his big eyes. He was very into fashion too. You can't wear hats in class, but I went to his house once and his mother showed me his closet. He had 50 hats lined up in his closet like trophies. I asked him 'What's up with the 50 hats?' He said 'I got one for every girlfriend.' He was playful and loved to kid around."

Mike had his share of male bonding too. He used to hang out sometimes with Yun Jae Chung, currently a senior at Secaucus High School.

"I met Mike when I was in sixth grade," he said. "Mike used to come down to Huber Street School and play basketball with us. When I heard he joined the Marines, I said 'Whoa.' But you got to do what you go to do. I was shocked when I heard he died. He was really an energetic kid, and he smiled a lot. It's really sad."

Secaucus prepares to remember as a veteran looks back

Mike's death stirred up a lot of memories for Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell.

"As a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and as someone who lost a child who was at the age of 18, this is probably one of the most horrible things that any parent could face," he said. "Losing a child in combat can certainly invoke other problems for parents. This is a war that is becoming somewhat controversial, just like it was when I was in Vietnam. It's a very difficult thing to deal with for his parents and for everybody."

Elwell added, "What's most important is that he is remembered and that we don't forget those who gave their life in service for their country."

Plans are already in the works around town to remember Marcial. Impreveduto is planning to get a bronze plaque dedicated to him on the rocks outside of the high school hopefully later this spring. Elwell is going to meet with the Secaucus superintendent of schools, the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in order to solidify commemoration plans.

Elwell is open to several ideas, including naming a new street or park after Marcial.

Marcial's funeral will be in Brooklyn, where his father Miguel Marcial Jr. lives. Elwell remembers a time in his life when such a solemn ceremony could have been for him.

"There were three to four times over there where it could have been me," he said. "I was a paratrooper, and I was in combat. I was terribly afraid. I even received the last rites. I'm glad I lived so I had a chance to achieve what I wanted to do in life."

From her new home in Chatham, N.J., Diana Cabrera doesn't know when this war that killed her only son will end.

"He gave his life for his country, but unfortunately, the fighting continues," she said. "He was so young, and we shouldn't send people that young out there."

Kelly isn't sure yet what the long-term effect of Mike's death will be in the classroom and around town.

"After word got around about what happened, my students haven't really followed up with questions about Iraq," Kelly said. "I think that may change in the next few weeks. Time will tell. I'm sure they're going to have some questions."

But no matter what, Kelly will always remember how he said goodbye to Mike.

"We all told him we would pray for him and to be careful," he said. "And that's the last time we saw him. I'm still in shock, and I'm sure I speak for many of us. He was a good kid. It's just a real shame. We're going to miss him."

From the Reporter

Related Link:
Miguel A. Marcial III killed in 'non-combat' incident