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U. S. Department of Defense
Release No. 747-04
August 5, 2004 DoD Identifies Marine Casualties
The Department of Defense announced today the death of three Marines who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Gunnery Sergeant Elia P. Fontecchio, 30, of Milford, Massachusetts, died August 4, 2004, from injuries received from enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.
For further information on GySgt Fontecchio contact the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms Public Affairs Office at (760) 830-6213.
Marines and family members came together on April 12, 2004, to say goodbye to Gunnery Sergeant Elia P. Fontecchio, 3/7 Marines, Kilo Company. He died in combat in the small town of Husaybah on the Syrian border of Iraq. He left behind a grieving family; his wife Kinney and two year old son, Elia. And he left behind brother Marines who feel the loss keenly even as they keep on with their mission. He would have been home very soon. Instead, he came all the way home - he now stands guard at the gates of Heaven with those who have gone before.
The men he has lived with and fought beside for the last six months could not be here. They have a mission to complete in Iraq. They were represented by Captain Buster O'Brien who served with GSgt Fontecchio last year during OIF1. He spoke for them:
"I'm speaking here today on behalf of Gunny's brothers in 3/7," started O'Brien, fighting back tears. "I can tell you that though there are many of them here today, the vast majority could not be here-for they are paying their respect to their beloved Gunny by going back out on patrol and doing their job the way he taught them to-with courage, competence, discipline and, when necessary, a smile."
O'Brien, like those who spoke before him at Saint Sebastian's by the Sea in Melbourne Beach, shared stories depicting "Gunny"' as an incredible mentor, teacher, father, husband, friend and Marine.
The thing that made O'Brien's speech stand out were the words, penned by Fontecchio himself, weeks before his death and given to his friend and fellow Marine in Iraq, Captain Jeremy Graczyk.
"I loved every one of you," Fontecchio wrote in a letter to be read in the event of his death. "You will forever be my brothers in arms."
Before he finished, and fighting for composure, O'Brien addressed young Elia, sitting in the pew next to his mother.
"Elia first of all, we'll have time
to talk about your Daddy, and we will," he said, tears flowing again.
today please know that your Daddy was truly a courageous warrior. We
overseas in combat, and at least once a day he took out pictures of you
and said, 'Come on, you gotta admit it, is he the cutest kid you've
seen?' He was so proud of you. You were literally the pride of his
He will always be with you. And whenever you need anything, just call
one of Gunny's brothers-in-arms."
Guests included Governor Mitt Romney, Congressman Richard Neal, Secretary of Transportation Daniel Grabauskas, Massachusetts National Guard Adjutant General George Keefe, Senator Richard Moore, and Chairman of the Milford Board of Selectman John Seaver. Special thanks is due to officers and members of the Milford V.F.W. Post 1544, Lawrence Hughes commanding, and officers and members of the Italian-American Veterans, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion and Auxillary, Armenian-American Veterans, and Medway V.F.W. Post 1526. The Milford High School Orchestra and Chorale, led by William Moffett and Joshua Nannestad, sang the Marine Corps Hymn, National Anthem, and played the traditional folk song "Shenandoah".
Among the many family and friends who attended were Sergeant Fontecchio's widow, Kinney, parents Dennis and Cindy, sister Jane, uncle Dana, cousin Greg and Michelle Allegrezza, and numerous other relatives and friends. Gold Star Mother Mrs. Antoinette Cormier (Milford Daily News Woman of the Year), whose son Eugene was killed in Vietnam, presented flowers to Sgt. Fontecchio's widow and mother. She was accompanied by her daughter-in-law Carol. Friends and relatives came from as close as New Hampshire and as far away as California and Florida.
Members of the 25th Marine Corps Regiment from Worcester and the Milford Police Department presented the Colors of the United States, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and U.S. Marine Corps. Milford Firefighter Pat Salmon performed "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes. Following the event, sandwiches and drinks were provided by Oliva's Market and Catering, courtesy of Kevin Meehan, owner of Imperial Chevrolet.
Rep. Parente said the event could not
been made possible without the assistance of many individuals and
not already mentioned, including: Milford Police Chief Thomas
Deputy Police Chief Ronald Marino, Detective Dustin Testa, Officer
Pomponio, Officer Richard Belanger, Officer Brian Cahill, Officer Paul
Parisi, The Milford Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator Louis
and the Town Hall maintenance staff, Milford Veterans Agent John Pilla,
Milford Fire Department Chief John Touhey, Milford High School
John Brucato and Music Director Nadine Pomeroy, Kevin Meehan, Wildside
Florist, the Milford Radisson Hotel, Cascio Limousine, Massachusetts
Department Commissioner John Cogliano and his staff, District 3 Highway
Engineer Thomas Waruzila, Army Captain Pat Shea and Marine Corporal
Mazzuchelli, and O'Toole's North Pond House.
In his days at Milford High School, Elia Fontecchio was a driven student with many interests who stood out among his peers. He played football, acted in school plays and would sing in chorus.
"He was a kid who was pleasant, friendly, and he was a strong contributing member of the school community," recalled High School Principal John Brucato.
In the 1992 Milford High yearbook, Elia said his goal in life was "to continue being myself and to follow my dreams and make them come true."
On Wednesday, now-Marine Gunnery Sergeant Fontecchio, 30, was killed during fighting in Iraq, just two weeks before completing his second tour of duty, according to the Department of Defense.
He leaves his wife, Kinney, his 2-year-old son Elia Jr., his twin sister Alicia Powers, and his parents, Dennis and Cindy Fontecchio of Satellite Beach, Florida.
Serving his country was important to Elia, said his uncle Dana Fontecchio.
"His father was a Marine and he knew all about military life," said Fontecchio. "His father was instrumental in his life plans. He wasn't just over in Iraq for you and me, he was over there because he wanted to support peace."
Principal Brucato recalled the goal-driven young man.
"He had a lot of different interests and he placed a lot of emphasis on the quality of human relationships in school. It turned out that he held to his goals and did what he wanted to do. He disliked war and he wanted to do something about it. He wanted to make a difference by serving his country.
In his high school yearbook, Fontecchio listed "war" as one of his main dislikes.
Fontecchio died after being injured during a battle in the Anbar province, considered to be a volatile Sunni-dominated region west of Baghdad, the Defense Department said.
Fontecchio was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marines Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Califfornia.
His great-aunt Bette Blackburn of Milford said he "loved the Marines. It was something he always wanted to do and he did it. He was very ambitious."
Elia's parents and wife declined to talk over the phone yesterday. John Mansur, a spokesman for the family in Florida, issued a statement:
"The Fontecchio family is saddened beyond words by the loss of our beloved Elia," said Mansur in the statement released to The Milford Daily News yesterday. "We appreciate the kindness and expressions of sympathy and support offered by our many friends within the civilian and military community.
"(Elia) was a Marine first and foremost, and his courage and devotion to his country have cost him and us the ultimate price. We know that Elia would want our first concern to be for his wife Kinney, his young son and his family. For that reason, we hope you will respect our need for privacy at this time," the statement continued.
His uncle, Dana, who lives on Fruit Street in Milford, said his nephew was an ambitious person who followed his dreams.
"He was a kid who excelled in anything he did in life," Dana Fontecchio said yesterday while sitting at his desk at Karl A. Bright Insurance Agency in Milford. "He was a beautiful family man. He was just a good kid that turned into an incredible man."
At Milford High, Elia Fontecchio played football and was an active member in theater and chorus.
"I remember he had a lead solo in the school's production of 'Grease' one year," said Fontecchio's uncle. "He brought the house down."
His great-aunt said she remembers her nephew was always a happy person.
"He was a good kid," said Blackburn. "He never was a troublemaker. He was just happy-go-lucky and he loved his family. He was fantastic."
Brucato said he remembered Elia had a strong presence with his peers at school.
"He was a member of our alumni and our family and we all grieve for him and his family," he said. "It's a tragedy."
After graduation, Fontecchio enlisted in the Marine Corps on April 19, 1993, and attended recruit training at Parris Island, S.C. He joined the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment as a platoon sergeant on Oct 16, 2002.
This was his second deployment to Iraq. He left with his unit to Operation Iraqi Freedom Two in February 2004.
According to a the public relations office at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Elia's list of awards include: a Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal (multiple awards), Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy-Marine Corps Achievement (two awards), Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Commendation (two awards), Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, Marine Security Guard Ribbon and Navy-Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon (three awards), National Defense Service Medal (two awards), Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (four awards) and The War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.
Brucato said he plans to put up some kind of memorial in the form of a commemorative plaque at the high school honoring Elia's life. A scholarship fund may also be set up in Elia's name.
"I think it's important for the young people in this school to identify with a peer and hope they see the connection," said Brucato. "Elia was a student here much like they are now. He made a choice in order for them to be safe. Our young people should reflect on his sacrifice."Fontecchio's burial and funeral services are expected to take place next week in Florida at a time and place to be announced, according to the combat center's public relations office.
Memories of a son, twin brother, husband and father are all that remain for the Fontecchio family.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant Elia Paietta Fontecchio, 30, died on Wednesday in a firefight in the Al-Anbar province of Iraq. He was within days of finishing his second combat tour in the Middle East.
His mother and father in Satellite Beach are heartbroken and didn't want to speak to the news media, a family spokesman said.
A flag once flown over the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington D.C. flies at half-staff in their front yard in Satellite Beach.
Alicia Powers, Fontecchio's younger sister by six minutes, gathered with her husband at a friend's home in Melbourne on Friday night to page through a photo album and remember better days.
Fontecchio was stationed at Twentynine Palms, California, where he lived with his wife, Kinney, and 3-year-old Elia Jr.
"His son was wearing battle fatigues," Powers said. "He loved wearing them because he wanted to be like his daddy."
Fontecchio was home around Christmas but was sent back to combat a short time later. Featured in a wire-service newspaper story about soldiers returning to fight, he told a reporter then it was hard to break that news to his wife.
Fontecchio actually helped other Marines deliver the sobering news to their families.
"I'm being straight with them, and telling them the importance of their job. Marines will want to do the right thing," he said at the time.
That kind of straight-forward reaction to duty doesn't surprise his family -- Fontecchio's dad fought as a Marine in Vietnam.
Powers' husband, Scott, said Fontecchio made the best of his duty in Iraq, trying to help those less fortunate.
"He liked working to get those people from under Saddam Hussein's rule and give them a chance to have what we have. He talked about giving soccer balls to the (Iraqi) kids and playing soccer with them. He felt his true mission was to help other human beings in Iraq."
"He'd want to know that we'd support the troops over there," he said.
Nicole Fontecchio, the sergeant's 34-year-old sister and asingle mom, said he was like a father to her children.
"He talked to my son. I'd e-mail him and he'd e-mail me, even from Iraq, and he'd tell my son to 'behave for your mother.' Family was a priority to him," she said.
But as they mourn their brother, the sisters couldn't help but remember funny memories from their teenage years, even as they held each other's hands for support.
"His honesty in high school," the girls said, giggling. "We'd be getting ready to go out and he'd say, 'Your butt looks too big.' So every time after that, we'd check with him before we went out."
The sisters said Fontecchio was smart, serious and studious, but that didn't stop him from enthusiastically rushing to see "Star Wars" in the theater.
"We all had to go see it. He gathered the family up and we all went to see the redone 'Star Wars,' " Alicia said.
John Mansur, a family friend, said he talked to Fontecchio before the second tour of duty and asked him his feelings about going back.
"And he said: 'Sir, there's a job to be done, the Marines do the job, and I'm a Marine,' " Mansur said.
In high school in Milford, Mass., Fontecchio was interested in theater, performing in a production of "Grease," his sisters said.
He played Frenchie's guardian angel and sang "Beauty School Drop Out." But when he got married, Fontecchio's primary focus was his family, wife and son.
"Sometimes, we'd stay at home with his son while he and his wife went out for dinner," Powers said.
Elia's pet name for his twin sister was WT-2, after the Wonder Twins superhero characters in the Superfriends cartoon. He'd e-mail Alicia from Iraq and always addressed her at WT-2."He always talked about his men," Alicia said.
NOTE: Gunnery Sergeant Fontecchio was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 25 August 2005.