Wednesday, May 09, 2007

William Callahan laid to rest

EASTON -- Marine Sergeant William J. Callahan came home yesterday, home from Iraq in a dark-wood casket to a church overflowing with 500 relatives, friends, townspeople, and fellow Marines.

And there was another family member, honored by a kilted bagpiper who played "Danny Boy." Cradled in a blanket in Immaculate Conception Church was Daniel A. Callahan, 28 days old, an only child that his father never saw.

But Callahan had heard his baby, the newborn's tiny voice carried by 21st-century technology to the Iraqi desert 6,000 miles away. In her eulogy, Mary Ellen Callahan recalled her son's awestruck reaction: " 'I never heard anything more beautiful in my whole life until . . . I heard him cry.' "

"His ultimate goal was to become a daddy," Callahan said.

But he was more, she added -- a devoted husband to Amy, his "soul mate" of a decade; a son wise beyond his years; a loving brother to his sister; and the glue that held the small family together.

"You're my brightest, shining star," Callahan said, her voice breaking with emotion. "I love you."

Soft, muffled cries punctuated the silence between readings during the funeral Mass, where Governor Deval Patrick and other dignitaries mixed with William Callahan's boyhood friends who had watched him play basketball at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School.

The scene before the funeral could have been a Fourth of July parade on a beautiful, warm, sun-splashed morning. American flags, large and small, hung from windows above dozens of onlookers who lined the sidewalks of hushed, quaint Main Street.

Marines in dress-blue uniforms marched past, followed by dozens of veterans from wars present and past. An open trailer filled with flowers moved slowly under a huge American flag suspended above the street.

As the entourage passed, State Police and local officers snapped their arms in salute. So did members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national group of motorcycle enthusiasts who rode to Easton to honor and escort a fellow veteran.

Then came a carriage pulled by a motorcycle bearing Callahan's body. Finally, hundreds of mourners walked silently and solemnly to the church.

Callahan, 28, died in combat April 27 in Anbar Province during his second tour of dangerous duty as a bomb-disposal expert. Callahan, who joined the Marines in 2002, will be buried with full military honors tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery. He is one of 53 service members from Massachusetts killed in Iraq since the war started four years ago.

Monsignor John A. Perry , the vicar general of the Diocese of Fall River, described Callahan: "He believed in Jesus. He believed in God. He believed in his family. And he believed in his country."

Indeed, Callahan had managed to find a place for his spiritual beliefs amid the dust and danger of Iraq. Family and friends described him as a devout Catholic who set up an informal ministry for other Marines, who shared their concerns and worries with him.

He also was courageous. In 2005, on his first tour in Iraq, Callahan braved small-arms fire from insurgents to tend to Marines who had been wounded, some mortally, when a bomb exploded under their vehicle.

"My brother was born to be a Marine," Marissa Callahan said in her eulogy.

Her only sibling, he would throw her over his shoulder and run around the house, Marissa said. "Everybody here knows how great Bill was," she said.

An aunt, Donna Sullivan of Quincy, said that when she saw her nephew over Christmas, he was upbeat.

"How wouldn't he have been? Amy was pregnant," Sullivan said after the service. "He would have made one heck of a dad."

Roberta Bullock, another aunt, described Callahan "as an American hero, a real true-blue GI Joe," who would have been proud of his mother's dignity at the service.

"He had gone to a [military] funeral before, and he was very saddened that there wasn't a big turnout," Bullock said. "He would have loved this."

After the Mass, after the Marine guard draped the casket with an American flag, the church bell tolled and 18 rifle shots cracked the air.

The mourners also heard the bagpipe play "Danny Boy," the Irish ballad in which a father, who dies before his son, pledges to wait for him in the afterlife.

"If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me," the song ends. "And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me."

From the Boston Globe

Related Link:
William J. Callahan killed 'while conducting combat operations'