By Doug Ireland
---- — DERRY — There were few dry eyes May 29 as a crowd of approximately 400 people paid their last respects to 1st Lt. Paul DeMeo of Derry.
The U.S. Army ranger and 2007 Pinkerton Academy graduate was remembered for his charisma and leadership during an hour-long funeral service at the St. Thomas Aquinas Center.
DeMeo, 23, died unexpectedly May 14 while stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The Army has not said how he died.
The hundreds who came to honor DeMeo were reminded of the paratrooper’s outgoing personality and ability to lead others.
Those attributes were evident at an early age, according to Lt. Col. Howard Steadman, who gave the eulogy. Steadman leads the Junior ROTC program at Pinkerton.
DeMeo and his younger twin brothers, Nathen and Pascal DeMeo, all graduated from the program and enrolled at either West Point or the U.S. Naval Academy.
The twins, dressed in their blue uniforms, sat up front with their parents, Paul and Lucienne DeMeo, and sister, Danya DeMeo.
Steadman said he became very close to Paul DeMeo during his four years as Pinkerton.
“From early on, the instructors knew he was going to be a leader,” Steadman said. “What set him apart from his classmates was his desire to serve his country.”
DeMeo was the first member of the school’s 13-year-old ROTC program to become a cadet at one of the nation’s top military academies, Steadman said.
DeMeo went on to West Point, graduating and being commissioned in the Army in 2011.
“Unfortunately, he was the first cadet to die in the act of duty,” Steadman said.
DeMeo’s future as a leader was limitless, he said.
“He had the potential to become a general,” Steadman said. “In reality, that can’t happen now, but in my mind, he’ll be a general.”
DeMeo commanded 38 paratroopers as the leader of the 82 Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Seven of those paratroopers served as pallbearers. Twelve members of DeMeo’s unit participated in the ceremony, including his battalion commander, Lt. Col. J.C. White.
The paratroopers stood at attention in the rain as the crowd filled the center, where the Rev. Bruce Czapla led the funeral Mass.
As the service came to a close, many tears were shed and a church bell tolled as the pallbearers carried DeMeo’s flag-draped casket to the waiting hearse to the strains of “Amazing Grace.”
Before the funeral, the procession was led along Crystal Avenue by a group of Patriot Guard Riders, passing beneath a large American flag suspended from a Derry Fire Department ladder truck.
Following the service, the procession passed Pinkerton Academy, where several hundred students waving American flags lined the street. The procession continued on to the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, where DeMeo will be buried.
Sgt. Kissta DiGregorio, a Fort Bragg spokeswoman, said last week the military still could not comment on how DeMeo died.
“The cause of death is still under investigation,” she said.