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A Marine honor guard marched down State Road in Plymouth yesterday. The town honored Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jeffrey C. Burgess, who was killed in Iraq two years ago.
A Marine honor guard marched down State Road in Plymouth yesterday. The town honored Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jeffrey C. Burgess, who was killed in Iraq two years ago. (Sarah Brezinsky Gilbert for the Boston Globe)

Plymouth honors fallen Marine

Dedicate square to his patriotism

PLYMOUTH -- The bagpipe began its solemn song yesterday afternoon, summoning veterans, troops, and their families to a grassy patch along Route 3A where a gray sign reads ''Welcome to Plymouth: America's Hometown."

They came -- some in military uniform, others wearing ''Support Our Loved Ones" sweaters -- to pay homage to a fallen hero. They stood with hands folded and heads bowed. American flags held by silent children fluttered in wandering winds. Standing off to the side, Al Berglund, 63, a Vietnam War veteran, lifted his hand to wipe his eyes. ''We're here to say thank you," said his wife, Barbara. ''This is to remember all the young men fighting for our country, fighting for what they think is right."

US Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jeffrey C. Burgess, who died in Iraq, was one of those men. And yesterday, his hometown dedicated this square to honor everything he lived and died for. Burgess was killed two years ago by shrapnel when his vehicle struck an explosive device near Fallujah. Last year, residents renamed the South Plymouth Little League field after him. They also plan to erect a clock at the site of yesterday's dedication.

Burgess's mother, Michelle Shea, 46, said she still has each letter he wrote to her. She keeps them around her house so when she finds one, she can read it again as if it's her first time. Yesterday would have been his last day in the service, she said, and many of his friends will be returning soon.

When the ceremony began, the piper stopped playing. The Burgess family sat on a stage as community leaders, an Army veteran, and dignitaries remembered and celebrated the legacy of the 20-year-old Marine. They read scriptures that spoke of a time for war and a time for peace. They spoke of Burgess as a model citizen dedicated to his country.

''My friends, this is patriotism at its best," Edward T. Connors, a retired Army colonel told the crowd.

The Burgesses' roots go back to the Pilgrims in Plymouth, his mother said. She said her son had planned to open a lobster business and become a state trooper when he returned.

''He knew that his roots where right here," Shea said. ''And he knew that's what his forefathers did before him."

In Plymouth, locals say, patriotism means more than planting red, white, and blue flags in front of homes and memorizing the Pledge of Allegiance. It means being active in the armed forces, said Don Lincoln, 49, a local veterans agent who used to deliver American flags to the families of deceased troops.

''You might not agree with the war," he said, ''but we still support our troops."

For the families who have relatives serving overseas, such memorials remind them of the perils of war.

''How's your son doing?" one man asked a friend who had a button on his red cap that said ''My Son is a Marine."

''Fine," replied John McClellan, 54, whose 26-year-old son, Jonathan, is stationed in Iraq and is scheduled to come home this fall. ''I just spoke with him last night."

Shea said the familiar faces of the community have helped her heal. They are the same faces she sees when she's shopping or when she's helping pack goods to send overseas at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post. ''These people have cradled me all along," Shea said.

Two years ago, after Burgess was killed, Shea was in the local post office when she met Bernice Wipfler, who had two sons in Iraq then. The two became close and Wipfler was instrumental in making Burgess's memorial a reality.

''I don't want his death to go unnoticed," said Wipfler, 60.

During the ceremony, a state representative read a letter from Governor Mitt Romney that said Burgess possessed ''a fearless and selfless dedication to the cause of freedom."

His mother says it's in his blood.

Russell Nichols can be reached at rnichols@globe.com.

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