PICAYUNE, MS (WLOX) - Tuesday morning, Lieutenant William Donnelly, IV was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. At exactly the same time, in the city of Picayune, a memorial service was held for Lt. Donnelly.
The 27-year-old Marine grew up in a military family and lived in Picayune during his teen years. He died on Thanksgiving Day in a firefight in Afghanistan's Helmund province.
The mayor of Picayune told the crowd of more than 100 people that they weren't there to mourn, but instead to celebrate the life of a hero.
"He is a true patriot, and we respect him and love him," Mayor Ed Pinero said.
Many of those in the audience in front of the old city hall, with the flag flying at half staff, were fellow Marines who served in wars before Lt. Donnelly was even born.
Roy Gjertsen served two tours of duty in Korea and one in Vietnam. He spent 22 years in the U.S. Marine Corp. He came to the ceremony wearing his full military uniform.
"I would tell Lt. Donnelly's family, if they were here, that they should be so proud of their son," Gjertsen said. "They should take great pride in what their son did for freedom."
Will Donnelly's aunt, Cheryl Wood, was also on hand for the ceremony. She spoke briefly and said Will had an incredible love for his country and the military. She truly believes his service was his destiny in life.
When asked what attribute she most admired about her nephew, she said it was his integrity and his love for people.
Not long after Lt. Donnelly's death, his father told us in a telephone interview that his son was the best man he had ever known.
Speakers at the ceremony in Picayune talked about Will's selflessness and generosity. They called him an unwavering friend, brother, son and husband.
Will Donnelly had married just two months before he died in Afghanistan. In fact, his wedding day was the last time his family saw him. Donnelly's wife, parents, and brothers and sisters were all at Arlington for the burial ceremony.
Back home in Picayune, Lieutenant Donnelly's name will be inscribed on the monument to fallen war heroes in the city's downtown.
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