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Westport Marine's life celebrated at funeral

Updated 11:24 pm, Friday, March 29, 2013

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  • Marines carry the casket of Lance Cpl. Roger Muchnick from St. Ann's Church, in Lenox, Mass., following his funeral service March 29, 2013. Muchnick was one of seven Marines killed by an explosion during a training exercise in Nevada on March 18th. He attended Staples High School, in Westport, Conn. in 2008. Photo: Ned Gerard / Connecticut Post
    Marines carry the casket of Lance Cpl. Roger Muchnick from St. Ann's Church, in Lenox, Mass., following his funeral service March 29, 2013. Muchnick was one of seven Marines killed by an explosion during a training exercise in Nevada on March 18th. He attended Staples High School, in Westport, Conn. in 2008. Photo: Ned Gerard

 

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LENOX, Mass. -- Nearly 1,000 people paid somber tribute Friday to Lance Cpl. Roger "R.J." Muchnick, a 23-year-old Marine from Westport killed in a training exercise last week.

"It's an emotional day and difficult for the family. It's a terrible loss," said Michael Pignatelli, of Nashua, N.H., who spoke for the family.

After private services inside the ornate, stone-walled St. Ann Church, Muchnick's flag-draped coffin was carried outside by six Marines in full dress colors, as a seventh followed behind.

A church bell slowly tolled in the background.

Two Westport police motorcycles with lights flashing led a procession of mourners along a tree-lined street to a nearby church cemetery. A full Marine honor guard marched in formation, led by a contingent of veterans.

The motorcycles were followed by two Westport police cruisers, one carrying Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

Westport police officer Chris Proudfoot, who attended the funeral with four other officers -- including two who rode motorcycles -- said he did not know the young Marine.

He said he came to Lenox, nestled in the picturesque Berkshire Hills, to show respect.

"I'm a former Marine," Proudfoot said. "He's a Marine and he's a hero. We came up here out of respect and his ties to Westport. He made it through two tours of duty and got killed in training. It's not right."

Muchnick, a Staples High School graduate, was one of seven Marines killed March 18 during a training exercise at the Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada when a mortar cannon malfunctioned.

He had served tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait, and Muchnick was scheduled to begin another combat tour in Afghanistan when a mortar shell exploded in a firing tube and ended his short life.

The funeral began at 11 a.m. with the Rev. Christopher J. Waitekus officiating. Muchnick was buried next to his great uncle, Lt. Commander William Coakley, a Navy pilot killed in 1966 during the Vietnam War.

One mourner became so overwhelmed that an ambulance was called. She was briefly attended to by emergency medical personnel and recovered quickly enough to rejoin the service.

Pignatelli, the family spokesman, said Muchnick's great uncle was shot down over Laos and his remains were not returned for 22 years. He said it was fitting Muchnick was buried next to his great uncle.

"It's very meaningful for the Coakley family for him to be buried here. I am very close to the family," Pignatelli said. "It's such a tragedy. This is a very patriotic family and a family that has gone through so much."

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said the services were a "terrific testament to a life cut short.

"You could see small town America in there," Neal said. "You could see the sense of honor."

Among those speaking during the funeral was Robert Coakley, Muchnick's grandfather.

"His grandfather said at 15 he had a rough patch, like many teenagers do. He said he found his way forward with the Marines," Neal said.

Although Muchnick lived most of his life in Westport, he frequently visited Lenox to see family and attended services at the church where his funeral was held.

Lenox is the hometown of Muchnick's maternal grandparents. It was a chilly and partly sunny day in the Berkshires on Friday, with temperatures in the low 40s and a brisk wind building in the early afternoon.

Joseloff told Westport Now he thought it was appropriate to have an official Westport presence at the funeral service.

"I ran it by the family and they were comfortable with it," he said. "Police Chief Dale Call, whose department includes several Marine veterans, quickly embraced the idea."

Also attending were many former classmates from Staples and Eastern Connecticut State University, where Muchnick was a student.

The funeral service followed an hourlong visitation in the church.

The stone church, constructed in 1912, was built in an early English Norman style. Its main altar was consecrated in October 1918, at the height of the Spanish flu epidemic that killed many thousands of Americans at the end of World War 1.

Since Friday was also Good Friday, Muchnick's service was not a Mass, Waitekus said. Only one evening Mass is celebrated on Good Friday. He said the only noticeable difference in the service was parishioners did not receive Holy Communion.

Muchnick is survived by his parents, Kate Coakley, of Jupiter, Fla., and Roger Muchnick Sr. of Ashville, N.C., his brother Will, 21, and sisters Avery and Grace, 19. He is also survived by his paternal grandfather, Jerome Muchnick, and maternal grandparents, Bob and Mary Ann Coakley, of Lenox.

Muchnick played lacrosse and football before graduating from Staples High School in 2008.