It was dark, a little breezy, and a light rain started to fall on North Maple Avenue in Purcellville Monday night. And the hundreds of people who stood along the curb, trying to keep their candles lit, weren’t going anywhere.
They were there to pay tribute to Capt. Michael M. Quin, 28, a 2002 Loudoun Valley High School graduate who was one of seven Marines killed Feb. 22 when two helicopters collided in mid-air during a nighttime training exercise near Yuma, Ariz. He had recently become engaged to be married. His body was returned to his somber hometown Monday night.
Most of those lining the street outside the Purcellville Volunteer Fire Department, where Quin’s father Brad is a volunteer firefighter, didn’t know him. But they all expressed variations of the sentiment voiced by Brian Annotto, who stood with a flag in one hand and his nine-month-old son in the other.
“I think it’s real important,” Annotto said, “when his family comes by, to let them know he’ll be missed and we appreciate his sacrifice. I hope they get some small amount of consolation from that.”
Nick Koopalethes of Purcellville said after Quin’s body passed by the solemn onlookers, ”This is the American backbone. We support our troops in the fight for American liberty. You have a little beacon of light in places like this all across America.”
Quin’s family moved to Purcellville in 2000, and he spent his junior and senior years at Loudoun Valley, where he was captain of the soccer team and won admission to the Naval Academy, but still a down to earth guy. Eugenia Siegel and Jon McCarthy, who graduated a year after Quin, recalled him and his family as friendly. Siegel said Quin was in the history club at school, and was one of the few who would actually participate in the club’s dances. Both have moved out of the area, but happened to be here this week and were impressed by the turnout.
“This is not something you see around the nation,” McCarthy said. ”This is pretty special.”
Many current Loudoun Valley students attended the brief vigil, marked by a large American flag suspended over the street by two fire engine ladder trucks. On the overpasses along Leesburg Pike approaching Purcellville, emergency vehicles were parked with their lights flashing.
“It’s hard not to pay your respects,” said Will Geise, a Loudoun Valley senior, “compared to what he was asked to do.”
Brad and Betsy Quin attended a memorial service for their son at Camp Pendleton in San Diego a week after the incident, then met his Marine escort at Reagan National Airport Monday night and accompanied Quin back to Purcellville. He will be buried March 21 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Earlier Monday, Brad Quin told ABC7 News that, “It’s a painful hole that has been created and to never be filled...I’m thinking more about what could have been and it’s hard and I’m going to think about that for a long, long time but I’m immensely proud of him,”
A Web site devoted to Quin was quickly filling up with hundreds of fond memories of him from longtime friends and family acquaintances.
Purcellville firefighters who lined up on both sides of Maple Avenue were truly heartened by the community support. “The Quins are a great family,” said volunteer firefighter Lisa Braun, “very involved in the community.” She said she went through the fire academy in 2007 with Brad Quin though he’d never done any fire work before, and that he went from administrator to active firefighter, as well as building up the membership from 20 to more than 120, while being the oldest member of the department.
Braun said Michael Quin was also dedicated to helping others. “That’s really what drove him to the military,” she said.
Across the street from the fire station, holding a flag and wearing a “Semper Fi” T-shirt, retired Marine Mark Deverse said he knew what Captain Quin had gone through in preparation for his imminent deployment to Afghanistan. And Deverse said he’d been to a number of memorials for those who gave their lives in the service.
He looked around. “This is what it’s all about in a small town,” Deverse said, “supporting his family for the long journey.” A California native, he added, “America would be lucky to live here.”