"It was a small plan that turned into a big, big outcome," said Michael Reardon of the memorial he and Robert Grandchamp had planned for their friend. "There was a lot more people than we thought would show up. Michael would have loved it."
Friends gathered in the lower parking lot at the high school on Church Street to write "Thank You Mike" in bold chalk letters on the pavement. A saluting soldier and the traditional boots, gun, helmet symbolizing the fallen soldier "cross" was drawn below it.
The hushed crowd placed hundreds of votive candles around the letters to illuminate them as music such as "Proud to be an American" played. The solemn memorial was punctuated by soft sobs, and as the illumination was completed, the mourners waved small American flags and held aloft candles.
Reardon and Grandchamp said they wanted to be strong for Mike's family, and support them.
"It's made it a little easier to go through, just seeing all the ones who came," said Grandchamp. "He would have wanted everyone to remember him with a smile on his face, not feeling sorry for him."
The word hero is tossed around a lot, said the Rev. David Anderson of First Baptist Church, who was asked to address the gathering. "Tonight I think we're reminded of the reality that there is a level of hero that goes beyond anything we've come to understand in our day-to-day lives here in our homes.
"There are those heroes who aspire to serve their country nobly, to travel to desolate places for no other reason than to protect who we are and what we have."
DeMarsico's parents, Michael and Lisa DeMarsico, and his siblings were presented with a large bouquet of red, white and blue balloons covered with "thank yous" and messages to the young soldier. The family lit a votive attached to the bouquet and released it into the heavens.
One of his cousins spoke of how Mike had become more like a brother, and how he loved and missed him.
Chris Grandchamp, Robert's brother, said the two had passed by each other throughout their young lives and had kept in touch after DeMarsico entered the service two years ago.
"He was never down, never negative about what he was doing, always positive," said Grandchamp. "I didn't think this would happen this early in his life, in anybody's life."
Mike's aunt Laurie Douglas moved through the crowd hugging and thanking those who attended.
"He's touched a lot of lives," she said. "He's not gone, he's not forgotten, he's in the breath we take, the air all around us. He loves each and everyone one of you."
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