Blount County honors fallen Marine on final journey home

Blount County, in fact a nation, delivered the message Monday:

All is well, Sgt, Ferschke, safely rest.

With all the dignity and solemn ceremony these things generate and deserve, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Michael H. Ferschke, Jr. was buried Monday, having died while engaged in the endeavor that many say was the focus of his life for many of his 22 years.

Ferschke was helping conduct a house-to-house search in Iraq on Aug. 10 when he was cut down by gunfire. He left behind a young wife and an unborn child, plus his parents, a brother and sister and a host of other relatives.

He was buried in the Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Knoxville alongside hundreds of other veterans and victims of war.

Ferschke was escorted to his grave by 28 law enforcement motorcycles and a couple of dozen other motorcycles ridden by veteran support group members, including Rolling Thunder, Patriot Guard and others.

Twenty-two white doves - one for each year of Ferschke’s life - were released to the sky at the end of the cemetery ceremony. All but one flew away in an initial flutter of freedom, but one was held back and was released simultaneously by Ferschke’s wife, Hotaru, and his mother, Robin K. Ferschke. The single dove symbolized the sergeant’s spirit.

At a funeral mass Monday morning at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Alcoa, the Rev. John O’Neill said it was “a very painful, very holy, very special day.”

He added, “This man came to do good.”

He noted that the mass was “a moment of sadness, but also of hope and glory.”

The procession through Blount County from the church to the veterans’ cemetery brought traffic in both directions of Alcoa Highway to a virtual standstill, as total strangers stopped to honor the last ride of a genuine American hero.

Some individuals and small groups of people were observed standing on the side of the highway awaiting the procession, some holding small American flags.

At the cemetery, an eight-sided pavilion overflowed with mourners, some of who knew him personally and many others who only knew him by what he lived and died for.

Educators and friends of Sgt. Ferschke said he had made clear his intention to join the U.S. Marine Corps well before he was old enough to do so.

And having done so, acquaintances say, he welcomed the opportunity to go to the Iraqi war zone and stand by his fellow Marines in defending his country.

Ferschke’s uncle, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Bob Lambert, told the crowd at the cemetery that his nephew was doing something he didn’t have to do in going to Iraq.

“He wanted to go,” Lambert said. “He wanted to do what he was trained to do. But God had a separate plan.”

White-gloved Marines stood a constant vigil over the body of their fallen comrade, sending him home with slow salutes, folded flags, rifle volleys and “Taps,” which contains the lines “All is well/Safely rest.”

John A. Keys, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs, attended the services and expressed condolences to the family on behalf of his agency and Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Ferschke’s acquaintances at Maryville High School, where he graduated in 2003, remember him as having many friends and an interest in drama.

A fund has been set up at a local bank to benefit Ferschke’s wife and child.

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