Milford turns out to honor Cpl. Pierson, slain by sniper's bullet in Iraq

Christian Abraham/Connecticut Post

The body of Marine Cpl. Jordan Pierson, top, is driven into the parking lot of Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Trumbull Monday. Above, a Marine hands the award of a Purple Heart to Pierson's mother, Beverly, during the service. Pierson, of Milford, was killed in Iraq in August.

John Galayda/Connecticut Post

Taylor Wisniewski, 5, of Milford, watches the funeral procession for Jordan Pierson along Broad Street in Milford Monday.

Christian Abraham/Connecticut Post

Dozens of bikers from various clubs ride into the parking lot at Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Trumbull Monday for the service for Marine Jordan Pierson. The bikers were organized by the Patriot Guard Riders Motorcycle Club of Connecticut. By MICHAEL P. MAYKO

Pictures, memories and anecdotes told the story of Jordan Pierson's short life.

Montages show him as an infant taking a first swim with mom, as a toddler sitting on Santa's lap and as a boy practicing martial arts.

Friends remember the Milford resident as a teen intensely focusing on video games, snacking at Taco Bell and Paul's Famous Hamburgers in his hometown, and his love for Honda CRXs and motorcycles. His peers write about Pierson the man who lost his "impish" and sometimes "nerdy" ways when he became a Marine, rising to the rank of corporal while serving in Iraq.

But it was a riderless horse — its back covered with a blanket of Marine crimson and gold, topped by an empty saddle, and carrying a pair of empty boots backward in the stirrups — that signified Cpl. Pierson's death two weeks ago.

A sniper snuffed out Pierson's life at just 21 years of age, while he was on patrol Aug. 25 in Fallujah, Iraq.

"In his next to last letter to me he wrote about walking the foot patrols while others were out on the periphery doing security work and guard duty," said Walter Pierson, the Marine's grandfather. "He said he'd much rather be there doing something worthwhile, like the patrols, than some boring duty."

For more than four hours Monday — Labor Day, a national holiday of rest and relaxation for millions — a community turned out to praise and grieve, cry and laugh with Pierson's family and friends as Connecticut said goodbye to its latest sacrifice to the war in Iraq.

"There are ways we plan to permanently memorialize Jordan," said Milford Mayor James A. Richetelli Jr. "But we'll wait until after the burial in Arlington National Cemetery."

A hearse led by a motorcade of state and local police carried Pierson's body from the Cody-White Funeral Home in Milford past lines of flag-waving mourners, including the Blue Star Mothers, to the Calvary Evangelical Free Church on White Plains Road in Trumbull for a funeral service Monday afternoon.

"He was just a young kid," said John Cassidy of Trumbull, one of those standing on White Plains Road paying tribute. "He didn't deserve to die someplace else. He deserved to die in his bed I'm tired of seeing young Marines die and be buried."

Outside the church, seven members of Pierson's Plainville-based 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment of the 4th Marine Division, marched forward to unload the casket.

That's when retired Marine Sgt. Rick Kowalker of the Marine Corps League in New Britain handed the reins of Melody, the riderless horse, to another Marine.

For the 32nd time since January, Kowalker found himself honoring another fallen member of the nation's military in New England. He stepped exactly six paces in front of his horse, drew his sword, and held it upward as he turned and saluted the empty saddle. He then returned the sword to its sheath and stepped back alongside his horse. "The boots are placed backwards to show he's looking back on his military career one last time," Kowalker said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Christopher Shays, and state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal were among the officials in attendance.

They heard the Rev. David McIntyre of Calvary church welcome the mourners to the service for three reasons.

"The first is to celebrate the life of Jordan Pierson," he said. He said the second and third reasons were to "comfort a grieving family" and "grow closer to God." Eric Pierson, the Marine's father, stepped forward and, in a moving eulogy, recalled the gray hairs his late son gave him.

Like the day when kindergartner Jordan slammed down a desk top, spraying a cleanser on it into a classmate's eyes.

Or the day 11-year-old Jordan dashed into the street and was struck by a pickup. And there was the middle school project on growth and movement for which Jordan drew an AK-47 ejecting shells that won him a suspension.

Pierson said his son's "journey into manhood began with that decision to join the Marines. The discipline he learned at boot camp carried forward into his improved study habits and the ability to show compassion and assist his friends in tough times."

Gloria Amendola, a friend since the third grade of Pierson's mother, Beverly, recalled how her son Michael and the fallen Marine grew up together.

Amendola said whenever she hears a "whisper in the wind" or sees "the magic of a rainbow" she'll think of Pierson.

Friends like Michael Amendola and Kyle O'Connor recalled Pierson's "impish smile," "nerdish look" and video game proficiency.

"Watching him hit on girls was pure comedy," O'Connor said. "He'd always say the wrong thing at the wrong time."

But watching Pierson play a video game was a thing of beauty, the friend said. "He never gloated He respected his opponent immensely He inspired his friends to do better," O'Connor said, his voice cracking with emotion.

McIntyre acknowledged that the young Marine had been a handful for his parents in his younger days.

"If Eric and Bev said hot, he'd say cold. If they said quiet, he'd get loud. He had his own agenda," McIntrye said.

But the Marines changed that, the minister said. Pierson's youthful "it's-all-about-me" attitude remarkably changed into one that was "all about others," McIntyre said.

At the end, it was the others who gave back.

A contingent from the Patriot Guard motorcyclists joined the motorcade and will follow it to Arlington National Cemetery to ensure that protesters do not disrupt it.

On Wednesday, Pierson will be buried in Arlington.

That's a fitting tribute, said Dr. Robert Nolan, an orthopedic surgeon who practices in Ansonia and knows the Piersons.

"He was so patriotic, so proud to be a Marine," Nolan said outside the church after the service. "This was definitely his calling."

Fallen Marine Funeral Slideshow, click here