boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

A death in the family

Saugus mourns for native son killed on duty in Iraq

On visits home, Marine Corporal Scott J. Procopio led new recruits through jumping jacks and sprints up and down Route 1.

At Saugus High, where he was named Most Eligible Bachelor of the Class of 2003, Procopio brought his favorite assistant principal a red-and-yellow Marine Corps T-shirt, thanking him for being a mentor.

And he loved to don his beige-and-blue uniform for the ladies at Walnut Street Gospel Hall, a small house of worship built by his grandfather, the late Joseph Procopio.

''They would all 'ooh and ah' at him," said Michael Procopio, 22, laughing at the memory of his younger sibling. ''My brother could really turn the charm on. . . . As much as he loved being a Marine, he also loved to come home."

Corporal Procopio, 20, returned to Saugus for the final time last week, when he was buried with full military honors at Riverside Cemetery. He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb on April 2. He was the first Saugus resident killed in action since the Vietnam War.

''His death opened a lot of old wounds," said Doug Cooper, president of the Saugus Veterans Council and a Vietnam veteran.

In Saugus, pride runs deep for its native sons and daughters. World Series Park honors a Little League team that nearly won it all three years ago. A memorial service for two former residents killed on Sept. 11, 2001, drew an overflow crowd to Town Hall soon after the terrorist attacks. In November, the rotary in Cliftondale Square was dedicated to residents in the armed forces now fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans already are planning to honor Procopio next month on Memorial Day.

''People in this town have a strong identity," said the Rev. Robert Leroe, head of the Saugus Clergy Association and a retired Army chaplain. ''When something happens, whether it's good or bad, people feel a need to do it all together."

In mourning a fallen son, Saugus joins small towns across America forever changed by the ongoing war on terror. Haverhill, Marblehead, and Newburyport have all buried soldiers killed in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As of Thursday, the death toll for US military in Iraq was 2,364. Procopio was one of 139 soldiers to die between March 19 and April 3, according to the Defense Department.

One historian noted that a military death can tear through the heart of a small community.

''They have a collective memory that often is not part of a big city," said Joe Boskin, a professor emeritus at Boston University. ''And everyone feels a death like this more keenly, because of a small town's communal nature."

Procopio was a fourth-generation Saugonian. His death prompted an unprecedented outpouring of patriotism and grief. For the first time anyone can remember, Saugus schools were closed because of a funeral. Hundreds attended his wake and funeral service at Veterans Memorial Elementary School, the town's newest school.

Walnut Street Gospel Hall was too small to fit the crowd of more than 700 Marines, veterans, town residents, and officials who turned out to honor Procopio. He was remembered during the funeral service as a brave Marine who served God and country.

''This 20-year-old Marine was in Iraq because he believed in the mission," said Eugene Higgins, a family friend who spoke at the funeral. ''We salute his courage. We honor his loyalty. We treasure his sacrifice."

Procopio, who stood 6 feet tall, hails from a well-known Saugus family, which owns a local construction company. Six months ago, he married his hometown sweetheart, Kristal Cerbone, now 22. Soon afterward, they moved to North Carolina, where Procopio was stationed at Camp Lejeune. He is also survived by his parents, Kevin and Mary Procopio, and three brothers: Michael, 22; Greg, 17, a senior at Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School in Wakefield; and Mark, 15, a freshman at Saugus High.

As a teenager, ''Scotty" Procopio seemed happiest when he was tinkering with a car or pickup in his driveway, friends said. He once painted a bright-blue Ford pickup with huge white flames and a checkered racing flag on the side. And he was upset when this, his pride and joy, didn't fetch big money at auction.

''He was livid," Michael said with a laugh. ''I remember driving home with him, and he was saying, 'Don't they know how many thousands of hours I spent on that?' He was so funny about it."

He didn't want to be a career Marine. He planned to serve his four years and then return to Saugus to join the family business, Procopio Construction. ''He wanted very much to serve his time, settle down, and raise a family in Saugus. He always talked about building a house here," Michael Procopio said.

A solemn funeral procession drew hundreds of Saugus residents to Central Street. A Marine honor guard and a riderless horse led mourners, who walked the milelong route from the school to the cemetery. Children in Red Sox shirts clutched American flags. Residents watched from front porches and sidewalks, many bowing their heads as Procopio's flag-draped casket passed.

''I don't know the family," said Jennifer McGrane, 34, standing with her husband and two young sons. ''But I thought it was only right that we come show our respect for a soldier who died for us."

At Riverside Cemetery, Corporal Procopio was laid to rest beside his grandfather. He received a final solemn salute. Two Marines folded the flag from his coffin and presented it to his widow. A second flag was given to his parents.

On a grassy knoll, seven Marine riflemen fired volleys. A Marine helicopter flew over. In the distance, four fighter jets flew in the missing-man formation, and a lone bugler played taps.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives