WORCESTER, MA, USA
GYSGT, K CO, 3D BN, 7TH MAR, RCT-7, 1ST MAR DIV, TWENTYNINE PALMS, CA
AL ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ 08/04/2004
When Elia P. Fontecchio returned from his first tour of duty in Iraq, he spent days figuring out how to break the news to his wife that he would be going back. When it came to his 2-year-old son, he felt there was no way to explain.
“You don’t at that age. You just do what you can,” he told The Associated Press in an interview in December. “Mommy bears the brunt of it.”
Fontecchio’s first tour gave him confidence as he approached his second departure. “I’m very familiar with the territory and the culture now. We know some of the mistakes … and we know how to handle them now,” he said.
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 Gunnery Sergeant 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 later on to talk about your Daddy, and we will,” he said, tears flowing again. “But today please know that your Daddy was truly a courageous warrior. We were 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 ever seen?’ He was so proud of you. You were literally the pride of his existence. He will always be with you. And whenever you need anything, just call on one of Gunny’s brothers-in-arms.”