As the coffin of Cpl. Kevin J. Dempsey was lifted from the hearse and carried toward its final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, dozens of Marines raised their right hands in a salute, a final gesture of respect for a man who had given his life to save his comrades.
On Nov. 13, Dempsey, 23, had been team leader of a Marine foot patrol in Iraq's Anbar province. When the troops discovered an improvised mine -- a buried bomb attached to a cell phone -- Dempsey took charge of clearing the other Marines from the scene, according to 1st Sgt. William S. McCoy of the Navy-Marine Corps Reserve Center in New Haven, Conn.
He saved at least seven of his comrades before an enemy detonated the bomb, killing Dempsey and another Marine.
"Whoever did it was watching when it happened," McCoy said.
Dempsey -- better known as "Jack" because he possessed the same toughness as the legendary boxer -- was assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Most recently, he had hailed from Monroe, Conn., where his mother, Barbara, and sister Jennifer live. He was a graduate of New Canaan High School, a football star who told friends and family of his dream of joining the Marines.
"He wasn't afraid of anything," said Pete Barrella, a school security guard who often chatted with Dempsey. Barrella said he paid special attention to Dempsey, knowing he had overcome the hardship of his father's death at a young age. "He was a tough kid, a quiet kid," he said.
Although Barrella had told Dempsey that he would make a good Marine, the security guard did a double take when Dempsey strode up to him last year in his Marine uniform. Gone was the adolescent in baggy pants he had once known; in his place was a man with a firm handshake and an assignment to fight in Iraq.
His was the sacrifice of a man who had a history of serving as a protector of those around him. As a child, Dempsey was quick to defend children who were being bullied and rescue stray animals, those who knew him said.
Monroe Mayor Andrew J. Nunn said that after Dempsey's death, there was an outpouring of recognition and support in the town. Some residents made meals for Dempsey's family; others donated to charities in his name. The local Red Cross honored him with a hero's award.
Hundreds of his classmates and friends turned out for his funeral at St. Catherine of Sienna in Greenwich, Conn., and he was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery nearby.
But on Tuesday, his coffin was disinterred and brought to Arlington, so that he could receive a military funeral and be buried alongside thousands of other war heroes. His grave is near that of another Marine who died in Iraq the same day, in another incident, McCoy said.
After the service, each of the Marines and other service members in attendance approached the coffin. One by one, they bid a final farewell to their comrade.
"It's meaningful that he is coming to Arlington," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who visited Dempsey's family after his death. "He was very proud of being in the Marines."