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Pallbearers bring the coffin of Lt. Col. Benjamin J. Palmer into the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Chapel May 23. More than 500 members of the local and military communities gathered to bid farewell to the beloved Marine who was killed in action in Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 12 while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Photo by Cpl. Brian Adam Jones

Marines bid Palmer goodbye: Community gathers to remember fallen friend

26 May 2011 | Cpl. Brian Adam Jones Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point

Bagpipes wailed “Amazing Grace” as pallbearers clad in dress blues led Lt. Col. Benjamin J. Palmer’s coffin down the aisle of the chapel at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., during a memorial service May 23.

As their shrill notes resonated off the small church’s walls, soft sobs from loved ones spilled over the melody, offering a sad harmony.

Hundreds from the local and military communities gathered in honor of the former commander of 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, who was killed in action in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom May 12.

Fellow service members, friends and family filled every space the chapel offered, overflowing onto the front lawn, watching the service from video screens outside.

Majs. Michael S. McFadden and Peter B. Young, who served as Palmer’s executive and operations officers with 2nd LAAD, delivered tearful and personal eulogies.

McFadden described Palmer as a Marine’s Marine with a screaming flat top and huge smile, eliciting a brief yet precious collective chuckle from the crowd of mourners.

“He was absolutely what a warrior should be,” Young said. “He was everything a Marine should be. There’s no easier way to say it.”

Young said while it was a personal honor for him to be able to escort Palmer’s body back to his family from Afghanistan, he still needed a bit of closure to say goodbye to the man he had grown close to over the last eight years – the memorial service offered him that opportunity.

“It was a great opportunity to get 500-plus people all in one place to celebrate his life,” Young said.

Navy Lt. Eric P. Hammen, the Marine Air Control Group 28 chaplain, said Palmer was a good spirit who took care of the Marines under his charge.

“The service showed how much of a tightly knit family we are here,” Hammen said afterward. “Lt. Col. Palmer never seemed to be fazed by good or bad news. He was even-keeled and really did care for his Marines.”

Roughly a dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders provided an escort for the hearse to and from the funeral home in nearby New Bern, N.C.

“It’s an absolute honor to be a part of this,” said Craig M. Bellile, the Marine veteran who led the envoy of Patriot Guard motorcycles. “Not just as a former Marine, but as an American.”

The scripture for the service was from Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, which began, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build … a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

“I hope all the young Marines out there understand that as Marines, we fight our nation’s battles,” Young said. “Sometimes the cost of doing business is that we lose a brother, but now we need to set the example and remember what that person stood for.”

McFadden said Palmer is now manning the watch from the heavens.

“For the rest of your days, you will have a Marine on duty to protect you,” McFadden told Palmer’s widow and four children.

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point