FRANKLIN - After an air base reception with a motorcycle guard and a senator, hundreds of mourners stood outside a local funeral home Thursday to pay their final respects to Army Staff Sgt. Robert Ryan Pirelli, a Green Beret who was killed in action in Iraq.
After an air base reception with a motorcycle guard and a senator, hundreds of mourners stood outside a local funeral home Thursday to pay their final respects to Army Staff Sgt. Robert Ryan Pirelli, a Green Beret who was killed in action in Iraq.
The crowd included Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray, and it recognized Pirelli, or ``Rob'' as he was known, as a loved one, a friend, a comrade and a teammate. He was a soldier, and, if all goes according to plan, will also be laid to rest Saturday as a secret service agent, a goal since college.
``Robbie wasn't an ordinary kid,'' said cousin Robert Pirelli, who arranged the honor with the agency's Boston office. ``He wasn't going to do an ordinary job.''
Seeking to burnish his credentials for that position and serve the country, Pirelli joined the Army in 2003. In a family of Marines - his father and four uncles served - the decision initially drew some ribbing.
Until Rob Pirelli worked his way up to the Special Forces, that is.
``We teased him about it, then we kind of excused him when he went into the Green Berets,'' said one of the other uncles, Jimmy Pirelli.
After making it into the elite force, Rob Pirelli was sent to Iraq in March. He was due home in October, but was shot during a gun battle in Diyala Province Aug. 15.
``It was a significant operation,'' said Brian Smith, the Colorado-based chaplain for the home detachment of the Green Beret's unit. Smith, who flew in for yesterday's wake at the Ginley Funeral Home, said 20 insurgents were captured, while many others were killed.
After the battle, Rob Pirelli's body was flown back to Massachusetts, where it arrived Wednesday at Otis Air Force Base. The coffin was met by family members, who came in a police-escorted school bus, and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders then rode with it back to Franklin, where six Green Berets from Rob Pirelli's unit acted as pallbearers, including one wounded in action and one recently flown in from Iraq after fighting by the deceased soldier's side. The men took turns yesterday guarding the body of their fallen comrade, and declined to comment.
At the funeral home, the crowd snaked out the door and onto the sidewalk. An hour before visiting hours had even begun, 25 people stood in line, family members said. At its height, the wait was at least 100 deep, with an estimated 400 people eventually going through the doors. The public wake continues Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a funeral at St. Mary's Saturday at 1 p.m.
Among those standing in line were family friends and former teammates from Rob Pirelli's days as a hard-working goalie. After playing for the Panthers, he joined Northeastern University's club team.
``He would have been a great coach,'' said John Louis, a college teammate. ``Always there to help.''
Jennifer Knight, a 22-year-old Franklin resident and former Panther hockey player, said her father, a civilian negotiator in Iraq, had worked with Rob Pirelli.
``I can't imagine a soldier showing up on my doorstep,'' she said. ``I would hope that all these people would be around to help us out, too.''
Strangers also came to pay their condolences, including those in the military and Murray, who stood in line like everyone else.
``He's a hero in the truest sense of the word,'' Murray said.
Inside the receiving room, Rob Pirelli's No. 18 Panther jerseys - one home, one away - hung from the walls. The family also displayed photo collages of their loved one, ranging from being held by his father as a newborn to taking a break while in Iraq. Rob Pirelli's nieces and nephews had left homemade cards, while Jared, his godson, had written a goodbye letter. Nearby, the fallen Green Beret clasped a platinum coin from his unit and his signature hat.
``Just a great all-around kid,'' Jimmy Pirelli said.
Michael Morton of the Milford (Mass.) Daily News can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-634-7582.