Jordan Christopher Pierson
Corporal, United States Marine Corps
RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 819-06 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 26, 2006
Media Contact: (703) 697-5131/697-5132
DoD Identifies Marine Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Corporal Jordan C. Pierson, 21, of Milford, Connecticut, died August 25, 2006, while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Plainville, Connecticut.
Media with questions about this Marine can
call the Marine Forces Reserve at (978) 796-2839.
A Milford, Connecticut, Marine has made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
21-year-old Corporal Jordan Pierson of Milford died while fighting in Iraq.
Tonight, Pierson's family is speaking out about their son's life.
Pierson's death had touched the whole community and tonight his parents are speaking out about the loss of their son.
21-year-old Jordan Pierson was killed in action in Iraq on Friday.
The Marine Corporal had been injured back in June and already had already earned a Purple Heart. He just returned back to his unit.
Pierson graduated from Foran High in 2003 and put off attending the University of Connecticut so he could serve his country.
His parents say in recent phone calls home he was talking more and more about his return.
"We are immeasurably saddened by the loss of our son Jordan who was called home before he had the opportunity to enjoy all that life has to offer but we find comfort in the memories we treasure," says Eric Pierson, father.
"The last phone call I got a part of the Jordan I know, putting it all into the mission so he could get home," says Beverly Pierson, mother.
His mother says that Jordan was due back here in Milford in just 60 days.
A tree in front of Milford City Hall that is lit to honor servicemen and women has been darkened until after Pierson's funeral.
Governor Rell also ordered flags to be lowered to half staff until Pierson's funeral.
Arrangements have not yet been made for the
funeral, but the family says they will bury him in Arlington National Cemetery.
Nearing the end of a grueling tour of duty in Iraq, Marine Corporal Jordan C. Pierson was looking forward to returning home and was already making plans to go skydiving.
The 21-year-old Milford man never made it.
Pierson was killed Friday during combat operations in Al Anbar province when he was struck in the shoulder by small arms fire while on a foot patrol, according to the Marines.
"We're here to honor Jordan's memory and revere his sacrifice," said his father, Eric, as the family gathered Monday in the backyard of their home.
Pierson was awarded a Purple Heart after he and another serviceman were hit with shrapnel earlier this year when a grenade exploded near them. His unit arrived in Fallujah in late March and was scheduled to return in late October of this year.
Pierson, who spoke to his family nearly weekly by telephone, said in his most recent conversation that he was looking forward to coming home and continuing his college studies, his family said. The plans for skydiving were typical of a man who enjoyed riding a motorcycle and playing paintball.
"He was a kid who took a lot of risks. He lived life to the fullest," said his mother, Beverley.
Pierson and other Marines would sometimes spend 24 hours at a time on a mission in heat that reached 125 degrees, his family said.
"It was a serious mission and it was a draining mission," Beverley Pierson said.
Pierson will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his family said. Funeral arrangements have not been made yet.
"If you learn anything from Jordan's example, you will have learned that he gave of himself and how will you give of yourself today," his mother said.
Pierson, a 2003 graduate of Joseph A. Foran High School in Milford, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division in Plainville. He was the second Marine from the 25th Regiment to be killed this month. Lance Corporal Kurt Dechen, 24, of Springfield, Vermont, was on a foot patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, on August 3,2006, when his unit came under fire and he was shot.
Thirty members of the military and two civilians with Connecticut ties have died since March 2002 in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pierson's profile on MySpace.com mentioned the Marine Corps several times. He said his staff sergeant was a hero, and he wrote "Marines 4 life" at the top of his page.
A tree in front of Milford City Hall that was lit to honor servicemen and women will be darkened until after Pierson's funeral, Mayor James Richetelli said. Lights on the tree were lit the day the Iraq war began in March 2003.
The mayor ordered flags at half staff. Governor M. Jodi Rell also ordered flags to be lowered until Pierson's funeral.
Pierson, a student at the University of Connecticut who postponed his studies to serve in Iraq, is survived by his parents and his 11-year-old brother, Ethan.
Pierson, who was not married, was studying business and considering a minor in psychology, his father said.
Kathy Hart, a neighbor, said Pierson always talked about joining the military.
"I think he wanted to go over there and do the job that needed to be done," Hart said.
Hart remembered a boy who was always running across yards with a big smile across his face.
"He always had that smile," she said, fighting
Jordan Pierson, the Marine reservist killed during an insurgent attack in Iraq, was a young man grounded in faith who lived life to the fullest and believed in the mission he was pursuing, his parents said during an emotional press conference Monday.
"He had a strong sense of belief in what he was doing," his father, Eric Pierson, told a gaggle of reporters and camera crews assembled in the backyard of the family's Whalley Avenue home, adding that his son loved the Marine Corps and felt he was part of a "band of brothers."
Pierson, 21, was killed in action near the city of Fallujah on Friday. A rifleman in the 1st Battalion 25th Marines, Charlie Company, Pierson took fire while on patrol and was hit by a bullet from an enemy-combatant's assault rifle, possibly an AK-47. He was evacuated to the Fallujah Medical Authority and pronounced dead at 12:12 p.m. later the same day. The bullet entered Pierson's shoulder, but likely did extensive internal damage, said Sergeant Peter Walz, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman. "We do not have the autopsy report, but [the AK-47] is a lethal weapon; that's why it is banned in the U.S."
With remarkable composure and her husband by her side, Beverly Pierson described her son as a risk taker who "had a tenacity for life. He put his whole being into it and decided not to listen to the limits of other people."
She urged mourners to remember Jordan as a role model, and not to dwell on his death. "Grieve," she said, "but do not get stuck in it." She also challenged others to follow her son's lead and "make a plan to do something for someone else."
Pierson, who had lived in Milford for 12 years, was scheduled to return home in roughly 60 days. He was looking forward to life as a civilian, his mother said, adding that he planned to resume an education he had put on hold to join the Marines. Pierson wanted to pursue a business degree at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, his family said. A 2003 graduate of Foran High School, Pierson was a paint-ball enthusiast and avid video and computer gamer who always had an interest in the military, his father said. A caption under his photograph in his high school yearbook says: "There is no future, The future is now. So make the most of it Foran."
In the Marines, Pierson was a leader who had a talent for lifting the spirits of the men around him when they were down, said his commanding officer. His unwavering belief helped those who questioned their faith and mission in Iraq. "Cpl. Pierson had been a bright spot in his platoon, in a place that can take the softest of hearts into a void of darkness," First Seregeant Ben Grainger said in a eulogy published in the FallujahCourant.com, a Web site updated by the Marines in Camp Fallujah.
"Even when the gloom of combat reached deep into a man's soul, Corporal Pierson could bring the Marine back to a sense of purpose, a sense of why we were here and that was making a difference," he wrote, adding that Pierson was destined to be a leader in the Marines.
Pierson's military decorations attest to the descriptions of selflessness and courage provided by Grainger and the Pierson family. Pierson was awarded the Purple Heart after being injured in a previous insurgent attack in which a grenade exploded and pelted him with shrapnel. After recovering from his wounds, he returned to combat this spring.
He was also awarded the Global War on Terrorism Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Armed Forces Reserve Medal and Iraq Campaign Medal.
The Piersons have not made funeral plans for their son and said they are waiting for the body to be returned by the Marines. They will hold a local service at Calvary Alliance Church on Orange Avenue and bury their son in Arlington National Cemetery.
Asked whether Connecticut had any plans to honor Pierson, State Senator Gayle Slossberg said, "It's a little early for that. We're taking it day by day."
The city, meanwhile, continues to mourn Pierson's death and will most likely provide a permanent memorial in the near future, said Mayor James L. Richetelli.
"We're a city of 53,000, but we're all individuals,"
the mayor said. "We've lost one, we all hurt and we all hurt for [the Pierson
family]. But the community has really come together like it always does
and that makes me proud. In the weeks ahead, we'll decide how we are going
to honor his memory in a permanent way."
It was a somber Sunday for the friends and family of one of Connecticut's war heroes killed in Iraq. They remembered the life of Marine Corporal Jordan Pierson, calling him a young man with big heart and a love for life.
A horse draped with the empty boots of a fallen Marine marched in Milford. It is a symbol of the sacrifice and courage of Corporal Jordan Pierson.
"He lived out his dream and that's all we can ask for on this short time on earth."
In his short life, the 21-year-old who grew up in Milford left behind a legacy of love and friendship.
"It's rough, man. It's a terrible loss, I loved the kid with all my heart."
Aching hearts for the man who had been wounded once before in Iraq, had earned the Purple Heart and returned to fight alongside his fellow Marines.
"He was a natural born leader and just an all around good kid, unselfish and very caring."
"This had to be an exceptional young man, he took shrapnel and went right back into service, that speaks alot of Corporal Pierson."
Pierson put off attending UConn to serve his country. Friend say his commitment to his mission never wavered.
"Because he knew those people needed help and that is just the kind of person Pierson is and will always be."
"He was willing to put his life on the line to keep this land the way it is."
Though he's gone, treasured memories remain.
"I will miss him every single day of my life, he was like a brother."
A bond among friends and fellow Marines who will never forget.
"I say thank you, thank you very much."
"If somebody could take 25-percent of what he was about they will wake up a better person."
A memorial service for Corporal Pierson will
be held tomorrow in Trumbull. He'll be laid to rest at Arlington National
Cemetery in Virginia Wednesday.
City residents came together Monday to say goodbye to one of their own. Marine Corporal Jordan Pierson, 21, departed his hometown for his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery at about 1 p.m.
Residents began to gather on the Milford Green at about 11:30 a.m. Angie Salanto was one of the first to arrive. She and a friend sat on a park bench across from the Cody-White Funeral Home in quiet reflection.
Salanto said it was important for her to attend the send-off for many reasons.
"First, to pay respects to this boy," she said. "I don't know him, and it doesn't matter. My heart goes out to his family. He paid the ultimate sacrifice with his life. Also, I am a Gold Star sister, and I am the wife of a deceased Vietnam veteran. I think I belong here."
Helen Jorge came from West Haven. She choked back tears as she held a tiny American Flag. "I don't know this family, or this boy, but I needed to be here to say 'thank you,'" she said. "It's the least I could do."
Two men drove by on motorcycles with American Flags mounted on the backs. They slowed as they passed the funeral home.
Patty Gambori brought her children. "We came to honor one of our own," she said. "This was a Milford boy. It's important for our children to understand the sacrifice that he made.
"Milford is a town that really comes together in a tragedy. We need to show our support and to be a part of this occasion," she said.
Gambori's son, Nicholas Holt, 10, participated in the ceremony with his Boy Scout Troop 196.
"We're here to honor a soldier that died," he said.
After noon, more and more people came to the center. Some were in family groups; others came alone.
The roar of engines filled the air as 12 motorcycle police representing Milford, Bridgeport, Trumbull and Fairfield arrived. The officers lined up in front of Rainbow Gardens next to the funeral home.
As the crowd thickened, the Pierson family arrived in a limousine with a police escort at about 12:15 p.m. His mother looked at the crowd from the car window. The family entered the funeral home through the rear door.
Shannon Dolan, 7, found a spot next to the road. In her grasp was a hand-made sign adorned with flag stickers that read, "Thank You Jordan." It was her way of honoring the young Marine.
Nearby, an elderly man wearing a U.S. Marine shirt and a veteran's cap sat on a park bench. Although he did not want to give his name, he shook his head and commented on how young Pierson was.
A man approached and extended his hand, "Thank you, sir, for your service," he said.
The veteran shook his hand and nodded.
Just before 1 p.m. Police Chief Keith Mello and Mayor James Richetelli exited the funeral home, followed by Fire Chief Louis LaVecchia and Police Commission Chairman Kenneth Fellenbaum, all of whom stood by the family during this difficult time.
Six Marines in dress uniforms exited and stood at attention at the top of the stairs.
The motorcycle police strapped on their helmets and stood at attention behind their bikes.
The crowd, which swelled to several hundred, was eerily silent and the air was still.
Of the line of flags held by the honor guard, only the red Marine flag pulled away from its flagpole and waved in the breeze for a couple seconds; the other flags remained still. At the same time bright sunshine illuminated the front door as the Marines prepared to take their brother home. Each one slowly raised his hand in a respectful salute as the flag-draped silver casket was wheeled between them.
Pierson's parents, Beverley and Eric, and his uncle, Michael Pierson, stood on the left side of the entrance as the Marines carried the soldier to a waiting hearse.
Wiping away tears, the family followed them. The sun again hid behind the clouds.
A police car, a pickup truck adorned with several large flags, and the motorcycle police led the procession.
Along the Milford Green, police officers saluted, veterans lowered their hats to their hearts, and just about everyone choked back tears as they held their American Flags high, saluting the fallen soldier in their own way.
Once the family's car passed, the crowd shifted
to the other side of the green where they paid their final respects before
Jordan Pierson's journey to Arlington National Cemetery.
The body of Marine Corporal Jordan Pierson was laid to rest Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony attended by more than 60 family members and friends who grieved the passing of a young American hero. Pierson, 21, of Milford, Connecticut, was killed August 25, 2006, by enemy gunfire while he was on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq.
Pierson's mother, Beverly; father, Eric; and 11-year-old brother, Ethan, sat at the gravesite. After Chaplain William Middleton spoke, Beverly Pierson rose to address family and friends. She read a prayer, "Afterglow," that she said her son would appreciate.
"I'd like the memory of me to be a happy one.
"I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done.
"I'd like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways.
"Of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
"I'd like the tears of those who grieve, to dry before the sun.
"Of happy memories that I leave when life is done."
Middleton acknowledged that these are difficult times for the family and friends gathered at a place set apart for war heroes. But he told them they can take solace in his exemplary life.
"As we come to this resting place, we know the Lord Jesus Christ has prepared a place for him in heaven," he said.
Middleton also told those gathered near Pierson's flag-draped casket that his sacrifice reminded him of that of missionary William Borden, the heir to the Borden Dairy estate who gave away his fortune in the early 1900s to help the needy of the world.
Borden, who attended Yale University and graduated from Princeton Seminary, is remembered for writing in his Bible the phrases: "No reserves; No retreat; and No regrets." He died at age 25 after contracting spinal meningitis in Egypt — on his way to a mission in China.
"Jordan lived this kind of life: No reserve. No retreat," Middleton said.
A firing party volleyed three shots in honor of Pierson, and a lone bugler played taps. Major General Cornell Wilson then presented Pierson's mother with the American flag that draped his casket.
Pierson was the 260th person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division in Plainville, Connecticut.
Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-3, attended the ceremony.
"There is not much you can say except to offer
your prayers and love," DeLauro said. "It is just so sad. It is very difficult
to lose a young hero."
It was apparent early on that Marine Corporal Jordan Pierson was destined for the military, family friend Gloria Amendola said. Her son, Michael Amendola, was Pierson's best friend.
"When Mike was drawing kites, Jordan was drawing AK-47s," Amendola recalled.
Pierson's interest in the military continued through high school. He joined the Marines immediately after graduating in 2003.
Yesterday afternoon, mourners gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to honor Pierson, 21, of Milford, Connecticut. He died August 25, 2006, from small-arms fire in Anbar province, Iraq.
He was the 260th person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington.
The motorcade to Section 60 included Patriot Guard Riders -- motorcyclists who sometimes attend military funerals to pay respects. Pierson's parents -- Eric and Beverley Pierson -- and his brother, Ethan, 11, led the procession through the soggy grass to grave site No. 8,421.
The two clergymen who delivered the sermon told those gathered that Pierson was a hero and that Arlington was a fitting resting place for the young man.
After graduating from Foran High School in Milford, Pierson attended recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina. He was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, based in Plainville, Connecticut. Pierson was deployed to Iraq in March and was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded by a hand grenade.
Michael Amendola said Pierson was trying to protect others. "He was worried about others more than his own well-being, and that is the true meaning of a hero, of a Marine," Amendola said yesterday.
After the Arlington ceremony, friends and family gathered near their cars, sharing stories and memories.
His grandmother remembered taking him to the airport the day he was deployed to Iraq. "He was so quiet when he was leaving," she said. "He had a lot going on in his head. He knew where he was going."
Ethan recalled he and his brother spending hours playing video games. "He always said I was cheating," he said. Others said Pierson enjoyed paintball and making people laugh.
Gloria Amendola said that she had sent Pierson an article after he had deployed about the future of warfare. But Pierson had a keen interest in military news and had already read about it, she said.
Pierson's first tour of Iraq was to conclude in October, according to military officials. He kept in touch with family and friends through handwritten letters. Although he wrote home often, he never complained. He loved what he was doing, Gloria Amendola said.
"We're going to miss him," she said, "but we know he died doing what he believed in."
Stoic In Devotion 'Marines Don't Cry'
September 10, 2006
By JESSE HAMILTON,
Courtesy of the Hartford Courant
It's strength they want to show now, as they stand in this field of white marble markers. Strength for Corporal Jordan Pierson. Strength for his family. Utterly unruffled.
So they watch without expression as their friend's casket is prepared for the grave. They stand, their mirror-polished shoes on Arlington National Cemetery grass, the brass buttons on their dress blues shining, each face a solemn mask. The way they were taught.
"Marines don't smile," one of the Marines from Charlie Company had said that morning at the hotel.
Not that there's any cause to smile here, in one of the country's most somber places, where markers bearing the names of the latest conflicts have filled new swaths of land in the five years since 9/11. The Marines stand behind a crowd from Connecticut and greet the rifle volleys with stoic faces. They don't flinch at the 24 notes of taps, which wrench a fresh round of sobs from Pierson's friends and family.
Most of the Marines in the group volunteered to drive more than 300 miles for this hourlong ceremony. They didn't have to be here. But it was an easy choice. Of course they want to see this to the end. Pierson deserves it.
So, these Marine reservists from the Plainville-based unit - most of them kept back from the company's deployment to Iraq for medical reasons - stand as symbols and reminders for Pierson's people. This is what Pierson was, their quiet presence shouts. He was part of something serious and had won a place in a fraternity that makes a try at transcending death.
The Marines, who don't smile.
But of course, they do.
The day before, on Tuesday, a Corporal and three Lance Corporals climb into a borrowed military van: Corporal Terry Hanechak, 25, from West Springfield; Lance Corporal Roberto Diaz, 22, from New Britain; Lance Corporal James Serafino, 22, from Stamford; and Lance Corporal Gregory Duplessie, 25, from Thomaston.
Except for fresh haircuts, tight to their scalps, they look like any other young men, in T-shirts and shorts or jeans, earrings glinting in Diaz's ears. They adjust the stereo to find a compromise: classic rock, while Diaz plugs into the hip-hop on his laptop. They are young guys going on a trip. And in each other's easy company, they smile.
These four are some of the Charlie Company Marines in a strange limbo. They were called for war and ready to serve. But Hanechak's eardrum blew from an infection. Diaz's knee gave out. Duplessie suffered recurring bouts of tonsillitis. Serafino had a herniated disk in his back.
None of these is a grave illness, but each was enough to keep the Marine from getting medical clearance to go to Fallujah with the unit.
So they've watched from afar. They've seen friends come home in caskets. They feel guilty about not being over there with their comrades, exorcising the demons of 9/11. And they are anxious to do whatever they can on this end. So they are driving south through the Atlantic states, every mile taking them closer to the remains of the young corporal shot to death in Fallujah and about to be buried with military honors.
The gravity of their mission doesn't muffle them. They talk and laugh about girls and cars. The van is a stage for the rehashing of exploits, from military training exercises to nocturnal adventures.
Delaware becomes Maryland, then D.C., and finally the van is passing the vast Pentagon and the green of Arlington National Cemetery, beside which the four Marines find their hotel and join others from Charlie Company who have made the trip. Through the windows of the hotel, they can see distant fields of the cemetery, salted with marble.
As evening comes, the Marines descend on Washington, testing the engine of a rented Cadillac and moving wherever the night pulls them.
At the first stop, it's a round of whiskeys. "To Pierson."
Duplessie, Diaz and Serafino stop at a nightclub, but the bouncers won't let Duplessie in because he's wearing shorts. He doesn't want to hold his buddies back, so he spends $100 buying the pants off a guy outside. The two swap pants for shorts in the street.
The next day's somber duty doesn't cast a shadow on the Marines' frenzied night. They know Pierson would be next to them if he could be. The 21-year-old from Milford could keep up with anybody, they know. And with Pierson now only a few miles away, it is their final night on the town with him.
Wednesday, the day of Pierson's ceremony, Arlington - a machine of funerary efficiency - is planning for five burials.
The Charlie Company Marines have prepared themselves meticulously, checking each emblem and ribbon, rolling the lint from the backs of each other's uniforms. They look official, even though they will be only guests today. Arlington has its own honor guards, the most highly trained in the country.
The Marines drive into the cemetery, unsure of where they are supposed to be or what they should be doing. They pull over as a hearse and procession approach.
"Should we salute?" Serafino asks, lifting his white-gloved hand to his brow.
"You don't salute in a vehicle," Hanechak answers.
Serafino lowers his hand as the hearse passes. "Are you sure?"
They have conducted their own funeral ceremonies back home, thick with ritual and tradition, but this is the pinnacle of such things, and there are a lot of rules. When Pierson's ceremony is to begin, and a crowd gathers, some of the Marines aren't sure what part to play. In the end, their only job is to stand and watch.
Pierson's "ashes to ashes, and dust to dust" join more than 260,000 others here. As the folded flag is passed to his parents, the family asks for a moment alone with the casket. The crowd disperses.
The Marines congregate around a nearby headstone. "Brian Scott Letendre, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps," it reads.
Letendre, an active-duty officer whose family lived in New Britain, was with Charlie Company and went to Iraq, where a suicide car bomb killed him in Ramadi in May. The Marines give him their white-gloved salutes and crouch to touch the stone.
"Marines don't cry," Duplessie will say later.
But the day has struck him deeply. He watched all the people weep for Pierson, all these people who won't ever be quite the same. Then he looked up and saw the stones in eye-bending rows to the horizon, all exactly alike, all marking this same impossible burden thousands of times over. He could hardly imagine the pain this place had witnessed.
Marines don't cry. But, of course, they do. If it happens, it's better in private or with each other, they say. As Diaz confesses, when he stood his late-night turns at watch beside Pierson's open casket days earlier, he shed tears that the demand of his parade-rest stance wouldn't allow him to wipe.
At this famed burial ground, the white markers are moving in a slow march across the last open spaces in this famous burial ground.
"There's a lot more ground left in this cemetery," Serafino observes.
Hanechak's answer: "There's always another war to fight."
The Marines return to the hotel and shed their dress uniforms, packing them carefully away for next time.
On the dark ride home, they'll recall every detail, every step and movement of Pierson's professional honor guard, as if remembering the highlights of a World Series game. The graceful steps. The astonishing strength of each pallbearer's one-handed hold on the casket. The synchronized movements of their hands as they folded the flag. "They were pretty tight," Duplessie will say. "We gotta learn that."
But first, they decide to make a stop at a monument. After losing their way in the tangle of D.C.'s roads and quarreling like brothers, they pull up to the Marine Corps War Memorial - the bronze statue of the raising of the U.S. flag above Iwo Jima in World War II.
In that battle more than 60 years ago, Charlie Company was there, on the right flank of the invasion force. The latest Charlie Company Marines stare at the larger-than-life figures, towering over them, frozen in their efforts to fly the flag.
But the young Marines don't linger. They have
to get on the road. Another Marine from Connecticut has died in Iraq. He'll
be needing them.
While serving his country, though, he found his ministry, according to his mother, Beverly Pierson.
The Piersons are members of Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Trumbull.
The Rev. David McIntyre, pastor, said that, though his mother is "very involved," Jordan was "pushing the edges of the envelope" while still a student at Foran High School.
McIntyre said Pierson wasn't involved in the church, but before he went to boot camp, the congregation "let him know we'd be praying for him."
Beverly said, "We had to drag him to church, but he learned to minister."
While in Iraq, Pierson learned Arabic to learn about the people for whom he was fighting, his mother said.
"He's known in communities in Iraq," she said.
McIntyre said that facing the stark issues of life and death might have forced Jordan to say, "'I can make a difference.'"
"He was reaching out in a positive way to the people of Iraq," McIntyre said.
From what he has heard, McIntyre believes, "He really stepped up and became the leader he was meant to be."
Both McIntyre and Beverly Pierson believe that was Jordan's ministry. They said he found a way to do good work with the Iraqis and gave his life for that cause.
Beverly Pierson has many questions but few doubts.
"Why God wanted the leaders, the people who changed lives, is beyond us," she said.
But her loss has led her to greater faith and a firm resolve to make a difference in her son's name.
"These guys are not going to die in vain," she said.
Jordan Pierson was recently buried in Arlington National Cemetery but with the wrong name on his tombstone.
The Department of Defense fixed the headstone, but that was not the only problem she saw while there for the funeral.
"It was like a meat-packing plant," Beverly said. "There were 26 interments that day."
She also has a cousin buried in Arlington. He died in Viet Nam, and she said his "grave was despicable."
The area where her cousin was buried was unkempt and poorly maintained, she said.
"Washington needs to budget money to keep the cemetery up," Beverly said. "That should be the foremost thing for a country that sends men over to die."
She calls it her mission to see that the veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice are honored appropriately.
"I'm finding a connection to God though all of this," she said. "If this is our new mission, so be it."
The family is still grieving for their lost son and brother, but they believe it was for a purpose.
"God wanted us to learn more about Jordan," Beverly said, "and the world to know more."
McIntyre said finding these things out about their son has become a key for healing for the family.
"The harvest that we have seen is wonderfully encouraging," McIntyre said of Jordan's work.
Jordan's father, Eric Pierson, is writing about their experiences of coping with grief, and the family is seeing a grief counselor.
"It's been a tough year," Beverly said.
"You have to grieve," she said. "Milford is
not going to let [Jordan's memory] die."
What does a Marine leave at the tombstone of his best friend from war?
For 20-year-old Lance Corporal Jason “Jay” Cooling, there is little in this world much closer to his true self than a small metal tag.
His dog tag.
That's what he leaves behind, because he can't leave his heart.
On this bright, brisk Saturday morning in December, Cooling has journeyed from Connecticut to this cemetery on the banks of the Potomac, to the last row of graves where troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan have been put into the ground. Just feet from the gravestone of his friend, Corporal Jordan Christopher Pierson, is a barren swath of earth, stripped of grass in preparation for the caskets to come.
Cooling has traveled with two others from Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, based in Plainville. About three months ago, these men in the 2nd platoon were all living and fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. One of them, Sergeant Terry Rathbun, returned a few days early in a medical evacuation, in critical condition after being shot in the face while on foot patrol.
Today, this small band of men, chafing under the stiff collars of their “dress blues,” is on a pilgrimage of sorts. Two of the four Marines from Charlie Company killed in combat were buried here. Now these three men, who've changed from jeans and sweatshirts to show their respect, want to touch the fallen soldiers' graves, take photographs, and leave behind a token — some measure of meaning.
“There is nothing like the brotherhood of Marines,” Rathbun said. “These men were our brothers.”
When home is half a world away, it is a beckoning dream with no hard edges.
From arid, battle-ravaged Fallujah, places like East Lyme and Southbury in Connecticut and Delran in New Jersey hold the promise of life as it should be.
Marines in war talk about video games, jobs they might get, and, of course, girlfriends and families. Some plan for weddings months away. Almost all of them talk every so often about the cars or trucks they hope to buy, the food they'll feast on. Taco Bell becomes just another symbol of all they can't get hold of soon enough.
And then, when home is reality, the gauzy vision takes on sharp shape.
Always there is the goodness of being in the arms of loved ones, finally.
But there is also, for many, the edgy voice inside the head. And it asks: What are you going to do now?
The nearly 200 men of Charlie Company, which served in Iraq from April to October, are all answering that question in their own ways.
For some of the reservists it is easier. They will soon fall back into the patterns of college they postponed, or the jobs they temporarily left behind. And their girlfriends or wives are glad to have them back in the fold.
For others, the direction is not quite so clear.
“Playing with toys,” says Cooling in short-speak to explain what he's been up to since arriving home in Southbury to his longtime girlfriend and family. He bought a new 2006 Ford F150 and has been riding his four-wheeler. He and a friend bought a used Nissan they have been fixing up and plan to sell for a profit.
He tells this to Rathbun, who, despite spending most of October in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, after a bullet severed muscles and shattered bones in his face, neck and back, is now behind the wheel of his black Dodge Charger Hemi. Driving from his home in East Lyme, 35-year-old Rathbun has picked up Cooling, who carries his formal Marine uniform on a hanger, at the Bridgeport train station.
The next stop will be Delran, New Jersey, where Corporal Thomas Corsanico, 24, lives with his fiancée.
Rathbun, a squad leader of about a dozen men in Iraq, has organized this overnight venture.
First they will go to the Bethesda hospital, where Rathbun has unfinished business and where all three men want to visit wounded Marines. Cooling and Corsanico particularly want to see any men from the group that replaced them in Fallujah. They've heard that, already, several have been killed.
Rathbun also wants to see the nurses who cared for him, and he's brought small packages of Godiva chocolate for them all. This won't be his only return to the hospital. More operations are planned — one for his teeth and jawbone and plastic surgery for the scar running from the right side of his mouth down the length of his neck. He hopes surgery can repair several severed muscles; his right arm isn't held solidly into his shoulder socket, and he has trouble turning his head to one side.
“I can't do three push-ups,” he says. “I used to do 100, easy.”
Rathbun, recently divorced, has extended his active-duty status for the medical treatment. Before he was wounded, he toyed with taking a job with the New York Police Department, where he tested successfully before being called up for war duty.
Now all is uncertain. He wonders about taking the U.S. Postal Service test. He thinks he can't do the hard labor he once did as a carpenter.
At Bethesda, the liaison office that works with injured Marines and their families has asked Rathbun if he'd like to help out there.
“You have the kind of attitude we need here,” says Lieutenant Colonel John Worman, who's in charge of that office and wants to bring in Rathbun. “We need people like you.”
Like Rathbun, Cooling isn't quite sure what he'll do, though he wants to buy a lakeside house as an investment. His girlfriend studies accounting at Western Connecticut State University, and he might go next fall to a satellite campus of the University of Connecticut. He's considered AMI, an automotive technical school in Florida, but it's expensive and the GI bill probably won't cover all the tuition.
“I gotta do something,” he says. “If I sit around, I just think about Fallujah. ... I know I couldn't stand being in an office.”
For Corsanico, the future looks more landscaped.
He and his fiancée have moved up a wedding once scheduled for this summer to mid-January. They expect their first child on July 30. She's a school psychologist, and Corsanico, who majored in criminal justice at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, hopes to line up interviews with the FBI and the Secret Service.
Cooling and Rathbun, who will be in the wedding party with other Marines in their dress blues, congratulate him heartily — with “oh yeahs.” They tell Corsanico he'll need to trade in the sporty black Mustang he just purchased for a family van.
“I can't believe it,” says Cooling. “It's 'cause he's my first friend to have a baby. ... But Tom will be good. It's right. Some others I couldn't see, but Tom I can see.”
At Arlington National Cemetery, the Marines search for Pierson's gravestone.
The marker for Captain Brian Letendre is not far away. He was killed in a bomb explosion a couple of months before Pierson, of Milford, was shot dead on August 25 while walking on patrol near Fallujah's downtown market.
At each grave, they leave a tile decorated with a Marine eulogy.
Rathbun also puts down a Marine medallion.
At one, Cooling leaves his dog tag, that bit of metal punched with what the military calls “the vitals.”
The men say they've come to “see” their friends. For them, it's not a goodbye. It's more of a greeting, though so difficult they linger speechless. Together, they stand almost at attention. They take pictures and pose for them. They touch the white marble.
Then, as the men head back to the car, Cooling decides he's going to see his best friend again.
This time he squats in front of the engraved
stone, and takes off his white hat. He cries.
In this sorrow, he, Rathbun and Corsanico head to a memorial — Iwo Jima, just past the walls of the cemetery.
There, strangers dart over to them, ask them to pose for photos and to be photographed alongside them.
An 83-year-old Maryland man, Gordon Ward, approaches the trio from Charlie Company.
He tells them he's a survivor of Iwo Jima, a former Marine sergeant, and he opens a scrapbook of photos and clippings. He talks about the fighting, the wound that forever changed his leg.
“I lost a lot of friends there,” he says.
They nod. They know.
Back on the road, headed out of Virginia for
Interstate 95-North, Cooling says, “I came to these places in an eighth-grade
trip, about six years ago. It didn't mean anything to me then. But it does
PIERSON, JORDAN CHRISTOPHER
CPL US MARINE CORPS
DATE OF BIRTH: 06/22/1985
DATE OF DEATH: 08/25/2006
BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 8421
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Posted: 28 August 2006 Updated: 3 September 2006 Updated: 7 September 2006 Updated: 10 September 2006 Updated: 17 September 2006 Updated: 2 November 2006 Updated: 2 December 2006 Updated: 24 December 2006
Updated: 22 August 2008
Photo Courtesy of Holly, November 2006
Photo Courtesy of Holly, September 2006