Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brockton's Palermo Died Doing What He Loved

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—U.S. Army Capt. Anthony Palermo Jr. from his childhood until his death on April 6, 2007 wanted to be a soldier and became a professional military man much like his beloved uncle and role model Sgt. First Class Angel Ortiz--a career U.S. Army soldier who was with Palermo when a makeshift bomb killed his nephew on a roadway in Iraq.
“I was there with him when he was killed. It was tough to bring him home,” Ortiz said as he unsuccessfully choked back tears and could barely talk about the day in Iraq when Palermo died at the age of 26.
“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” he said.
Ortiz said when Palermo was shipped out for his second tour of duty to Iraq, the pair were stationed together in Kuwait and both were deployed in the same unit to Baghdad where Ortiz witnessed the explosion that killed Palermo.
It was a devastating moment that Ortiz preferred not to talk about in detail.
He said Palermo’s loss is even more difficult because of the way Palermo always looked up to him as a second father and mentor, but Ortiz threw his shoulders back and stopped the flow of tears from his red eyes.
“He died serving his country. He died doing what he loved,” Ortiz said.
Palermo, a Brockton High graduate who died two weeks before the birth of his only son Marcus Anthony was honored for his service Monday, May 30 following the City of Brockton’s annual Memorial Day Parade.
A bronze and copper plaque with a picture of Palermo was unveiled during ceremonies at City Hall Plaza that included a three-gun salute, Brockton High Marching Band,
Brockton Police Honor Guard, Brockton Fire Department’s Pipes and Drums, and Brockton High’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or JROTC—one of the ways a teenaged Palermo prepared himself for a career in the U.S. Army.
Palermo’s father, John Palermo said his oldest son--originally born in Puerto Rico--had Army on his mind from a very young age.
“He was always serious about it. Since he was a little boy playing with toy soldiers—he wanted to be in the military,” John Palermo said.
John Palermo said Anthony isn’t the only family member who has heard the call to serve. His youngest son Johnny Jr. is in the Army and stationed in El Paso, Texas and middle daughter Lisanette Palermo is stationed at a U.S. Army base in Kansas City.
All three Palermo siblings were members of Brockton High’s JROTC, Palermo said.
John Palermo said “there are no words” to describe Tony’s loss, but despite his older brother’s death in Iraq, Palermo said he could not keep youngest son Johnny from following his brother into the Army—even when the boy was underage.
“He told me if I wouldn’t give him permission he would find a way anyway,” Palermo said. “I couldn’t stop him,” Palermo said.
After graduating from Brockton High, Anthony Palermo went on to further his military studies at Norwich University where he and fellow Brockton JROTC members Dennis Goulet and Matthew Weeks (Pictured, right) excelled as leaders and all-around students and friends.
The trio graduated from Norwich in 1998.
“He was a friend, a father, a brother—he was just a great guy,” Goulet said.
Weeks said while Palermo loved his wife Kristy and was thrilled at the arrival of his son Marcus Palermo was a serious and committed soldier who passed over a promotion to lead his men into dangerous territory in Iraq.
“He loved his men. He loved the military. He loved what he was doing,” Weeks said. “It’s hard, but at least he died doing what he loved,” he said.
Weeks said Palermo died two weeks before his son Marcus was born and was expected to take a leave and come back to the U.S. for the birth or—if the youngster came early—to meet his new son.
However, an improvised explosive device changed everything.
His aunt Vivian Irizarry clutched a bouquet of red and white flowers and in between crying, laughing and wiping away tears, said the tribute to her nephew is in one way sad and sorrowful, but in another fills the family with joy and proud.
“He died fighting for his country. He died for the country he loves,” Irizarry said.
The plaque in Palermo’s honor was paid for by a combination of money raised by the family through a website, www.captaintonypalermo.blogspot.com and city veterans agencies.
Mayor Linda Balzotti said her father was a "veteran to the end," who died on Memorial Day May 30, 1988 and asked the crowd to take a moment from their day to honor and remember the sacrifice of the nation's armed forces.
"Let's pray they all make it home safely," Balzotti said.
The family is in the process of establishing a non-profit organization to raise money for a scholarship for a high school student and other veteran services endeavors.
(Top photo of Palermo courtesy of Palermo family)

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