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Small N.Y. Town Buries a Favorite Son at Arlington

Young Soldier Who Wore No. 13 as an Athlete Is Remembered as a Leader

By Lila de Tantillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 19, 2005; Page B04

On Feb. 15, Army Pfc. Michael Anthony Arciola, 20, of Elmsford, N.Y., was shot and killed by insurgents in Al Ramadi, Iraq.

Within hours of his death, the village of Elmsford -- one mile square and home to 4,600 residents -- went into mourning as news spread that it had lost a native son. The soldier's face was on the front page of local papers for several days running; the mayor, Robert Williams, paid a visit to the Arciola family.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of Michael Anthony Arciola, who was killed Feb. 15 by small-arms fire in Iraq. He was the 123rd soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

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When Arciola's body was returned to Dover Air Force Base, a procession of police and fire department cars brought him home to Elmsford. At his wake, firefighters served as an honor guard. Ladder trucks raised a U.S. flag across Main Street on the day of the memorial service, which was attended by nearly 1,000 people.

Those who couldn't fit into the main sanctuary at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church watched it on video from other parts of the building. Still more tuned in to the live broadcast on the cable channel.

Yesterday, more than 200 friends and loved ones gathered as Arciola, who was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. He was the 123rd member of the armed forces killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington. During a Catholic service at Fort Myer Chapel, mourners wiped away tears as the Rev. Jesus Naverrete assured them that they would one day be reunited with Michael.

At the grave site, a gentle wind ruffled the edges of the flag draping Arciola's coffin as it was folded. Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton presented the flag to Arciola's mother, Teresa. His father, Robert Arciola, received a second flag, which he held tightly to his chest.

After the service ended, Arciola's older brother Robert kissed the casket as he and sisters Casey and Amanda bid their final farewells.

Arciola lettered in varsity basketball, soccer and baseball at Alexander Hamilton High School and was recognized as an all-league player. He was captain of the baseball team his junior and senior years and continued to inspire the team, which included several freshmen, when its record sank to 0-21 his senior year.

"He told them to keep their heads up," said Kevin Budzynski, who coached Arciola in soccer and baseball and was also his history teacher. "He let them know when they did something wrong and praised them when they did something right."

Arciola led by example -- he was often the first player out of the locker room and into the weight room, his coach said. He played his best in any position, whether pitcher or catcher. He resolved tense situations with his razor-sharp humor or the deft use of a movie quotation. When a slower player was lapped by teammates, Arciola ran an extra lap just to keep him company, Budzynski recalled.

Arciola always wore jersey 13 -- regardless of the sport -- and according to his former coach, his old baseball team now closes out daily practice by huddling together and calling out, "Thirteen!"

Arciola enlisted in the Army while still in high school and left for boot camp just a few weeks after graduation. He spent about a year in Korea before being sent to Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.

Mayor Williams, who has known the Arciola family since before Michael was born, said that even as a youngster, Arciola displayed the same qualities he would exhibit when he died.

"When he set his goals, he went after it," Williams said. "There were a lot of times he would get hurt on the field and keep playing. He wanted to go into the service and serve his country, and he did."

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