Marine Sgt. Joshua D. Desforges
Died May 12, 2010 serving during Operation Enduring Freedom
23, of Ludlow, Mass.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died May 12 while supporting combat operations in Marjah, Afghanistan.
(Taken from www.masslive.com of May 21, 2010) CHICOPEE – It’s a long way from the sun-blasted terrain of Afghanistan to the green grass, blue skies and singing birds that graced the Base Ellipse at Westover Air Reserve Base late Friday morning.
The late Marine Sgt. Joshua D. Desforges, who grew up in Ludlow, was honored by family, friends and military personnel in a private ceremony here.
Desforges, 23, a six-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, died May 12 while supporting combat operations in Marjeh, Afghanistan.
His body, borne by a private aircraft, touched down on Western Massachusetts’ soil late Thursday morning at Westover.
Friday’s ceremony marked the first time, at least in recent history, that a military funeral has been conducted at the base, Westover officials said.
The ceremony, conducted by the Marines, lasted about an hour and was attended by a number of dignitaries including Gov. Deval L. Patrick, U.S. Sen. Scott P. Brown and U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal.
It included remarks from retired Sgt. Major Edward C. Mitrook, leader of the Westover Young Marines program that set the young Desforges out on his quest to become a Marine.
Mitrook, at the request of the young Marine’s parents, David and Arlene Desforges, accompanied their son’s body from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to Westover.
“It wasn’t something I looked forward to,” Mitrook said after the ceremony. “But, what a privilege, what a privilege.”
Desforges was a squad leader assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, I Marine Expeditionary Force
He was midway through his second tour in Afghanistan, having been deployed there in December, the statement read. His previous tour was March through September 2008.
Mitrook said Desforges death seemed unreal until one of the last stages of his journey home. “I was fine until we touched down. I said, ‘Welcome home Josh.’ That’s when it hit me.”
In his prepared remarks, Mitrook spoke of his first impression of Desforges in September 1999 when he spotted the young future Marine, then 13, standing amidst a gaggle of young boys and girls at the start of a Young Marines session. He had “a slight smile on his face and a glint in his eye,” Mitrook said.
Mitrook said he remembers Desforges as being quiet during the group’s boot camp. But, “he was intent and completely absorbed as if he had a greater purpose. ... I would later learn that he did have a life plan and the Young Marines was a stepping-stone.”
Desforges parents knew early on that their son was born to serve in the Marines. “His dad will tell you that as a child and others were playing Army, Josh made it clear he wanted to play a Marine,” Mitrook said.
Mitrook described Desforges, who graduated from Ludlow High School in 2004, as a natural leader, “from his peers to the younger recruits who looked up to him for guidance and assistance and sometimes laughter.”
Desforges’ leadership led him to being selected by the national director of the Young Marine’s program for its first ever trip to Iwo Jima.
“Josh was walking tall and honored at being chosen,” Mitrook said. “He couldn’t stop talking about it.”
That trip evoked, for Mitrook, memories of a topic he touched on several times during his eulogy: Desforges’ sense of humor and penchant for mischief.
“It took me almost a year to figure out how he loaded the screen-saver on my personal computer showing him on top of Mount Suribachi with that same slight smile on his face and glint in his eye,” he said, referring to the mountain on Iwo Jima where Marines raised a flag in World War II.
Desforges joined the Marine Corps in September 2004, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant on Jan. 1, 2008.
Mitrook concluded his eulogy by wishing Desforges well as he begins what he described as “his new journey.”
“We hope and pray that some day we too will get to walk alongside you in this new journey,” Mitrook said. “God bless you Josh and Semper Fi.”
The Marine Corps., in a statement released after the service, honored their fallen peer’s “bravery, patriotism and service to the nation. Sgt. Desforges will not be forgotten,” Lt. Col. David McCulloh said.
Mourners included Stephanie A. Stetson of Chicopee, who became good friends with Desforges when the two joined the Westover Young Marines program in 1999.
“I thought it was beautiful,” Stetson said of the ceremony. “I am really glad it was here.”
Stetson described Desforges as being charismatic and larger than life. “Everything he did was so big. ...Words can’t describe him really,” he said.
Desforges’ death jarred the close-knit town of Ludlow.
Before the funeral began, hundreds of residents clutched flags and held back tears along the procession route, which began at Ludlow Funeral Home on East Street. Red, white and blue ribbons were tied to utility polls and American and Marine Corps flags dotted East, Chapin and Fuller streets.
Outside the Community Children’s Center on Chapin Street, where Desforges was a student 20 years ago, director Edith M. Chenevert and her assistant, Joanne F. Fenney, hung a hand-painted sign made by pre-schoolers. It featured student hand prints and the words, “Our Hero, Sgt. Josh.”
“This is a celebration of Josh’s life,” Chenevert said.
The hearse carrying Desforges’ body paused in front of Ludlow High School, where band members played “Amazing Grace.”
Clarinetist Cassie E. Goncalves said that the band had been rehearsing for the past two days since learning they would perform. Some of those standing along the route knew Desforges, while others wanted to show their support for his family.
“It’s good Ludlow came together like this,” said Senior Airman Travis G. Wilson, who attended Ludlow High School with Desforges.
Vincent A. Ferrero carried an American flag in his right hand and a sign proclaiming Desforges’ sacrifice in his left. He said he would place the sign on his Pond View Drive front lawn on Memorial Day.
“I am a proud Vietnam veteran here to support these folks,” Ferrero said. “Hopefully, it will help.”
Anna Marie Dias and her friend, Debbie L. Martell, stood under a shady tree as the hearse traveled down Chapin Street. The pair had attended the wake the night before.
“He fought for our freedom,” Dias said. “How could you not come out?”