Saturday, May 19, 2007

Walter O'Haire laid to rest

ROCKLAND -- With her brother's wooden casket placed an arm's length from her by Marine pallbearers, 8-year-old Kaylea-Rose leaned into her mother's embrace and cried.

"We can only guess the depths of your sorrow," said Bishop John Dooher, standing in front of Holy Family Catholic Church on Union Street, his eyes locked on the third-grader and her mother, Maureen O'Haire.

"A nation really mourns with you today," he said.

Lance Corporal Walter K. O'Haire, who would have turned 21 yesterday, was killed a week ago during a firefight with insurgents in Iraq's volatile Anbar Province. He had been in Iraq for about two months.

O'Haire's death marked the second time that a service man with ties to Rockland was killed in Iraq. Last month, Marine Sergeant William J. Callahan, 28, was killed there.

A half-mile section of Union Street had the appearance of a parade route yesterday morning, with residents chatting, parents toting toddlers in red wagons, and police blocking side streets.

But as a police motorcade led a gray hearse onto the street, about 4,000 residents, including Kaylea-Rose's classmates, stood in somber silence. They dipped small American flags or placed their right hands against their chests.

Karen Nee, a fourth-grade teacher at Memorial Park Elementary School, monitored a line of her students as they awaited the procession.

"We told the students last week that one of our third-graders lost her older brother during the war in Iraq," Nee said. "They were sad, and then they started wondering, asking if they could come to this."

Bob Baker, a truck driver with the Rockland Highway Department, stood in the middle of Union Street and surveyed the half-mile route leading to the church.

"There's been nothing like this, not in 40 years," he said. "This shows the support of the people for a hero."

Office workers and restaurant staff stepped out of businesses lining the street and joined the crowd, and firefighters stood at attention in front of their station, the lights from several firetrucks flashing in the background.

Governor Deval Patrick gazed stoically upon the pallbearers as they lifted O'Haire's flag-draped coffin in synchronized precision and carried it into the church. A single bagpiper played a solemn melody as mourners walked up the steps to the church.

Although he had baptized O'Haire, Dooher told the congregation he didn't know much about him as he grew into adulthood. But Dooher recounted stories from other clergy that suggested O'Haire was full of enthusiasm and stubbornness.

"Tell the stories over and over, the stories that make you laugh, the stories that make you cry, the stories that make you shake your head and wonder what it's all about," he told the family and friends.

Dooher then invited O'Haire's uncle, Jack Mansfield, to say a few words. Dressed in a gray suit, Mansfield got up, walked to the casket, and kissed it, before walking to the lectern.

"He fought and died for the love of this country, not for war or politics," he said. "I tried to be his hero, but he was mine."

O'Haire was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and he would travel back to Rockland almost every weekend to visit his family.

"He came home any chance he could to see us all," Mansfield said. "Just to see us all he would drive through the night."

From the Boston Globe

Related Link:
Walter K. O’Haire dies 'from wounds suffered while conducting combat operations'