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Thousands Hold Vigil For North Attleborough Marine01:54
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Kyle VanDeGiesen's Number 12 lights the scoreboard during a candlelight vigil in North Attleborough
Kyle VanDeGiesen's Number 12 lights the scoreboard during a candlelight vigil in North Attleborough

As people made their way towards Community Field, in the heart of the town, students passed out American flags, yellow ribbons and candles.

"It's North Attleborough," said Marily McDeed. "We're a community. This is what we do in our town. "

"I have two children in our school and I thought it was important for them to see how one person can make such a difference in a community and to our country," said Maureen Renzi.

"Probably 90 percent of the people out here didn't know him, but you just drive around town and look at the yellow ribbons," said Al Inglese. "It just touched everybody."

A sign over the bleachers said "Big Red Country." Photographs of Kyle Van De Giesen — many on the football field, some in front of the helicopters he flew for the Marines — flashed on a giant screen in one end zone. His family gathered under a canopy at the other end. The crowd filled most of one side of the entire field, and the bleachers on that side. On the other bleachers, lights formed the word HERO. When the field lights went out, the football team started to light the candles. On the scoreboard, the lights formed six number twelves, Kyle Van De Giesen's number when he played football at North Attleborough and at Saint Anselm College, in Manchester, New Hampshire.

"My first encounter with Kyle was as a history teacher who would wander into the high school gymnasium to watch the kids at play," his high school football coach, Paul Sullivan, told the crowd. "An unfamiliar face, one with New Jersey roots, caught my eye. He was tall and gangly, like a young race horse, but there was something in his demeanor and in the grace with which he moved that attracted your eye."

Cupping his candle throughout the vigil, Charlie Jette seemed meditative. He knew Kyle Van De Giesen only from watching him play on the football field. Asked what moved him to come out to the field last night, in a small voice, he said two words:

"Patriotism. America."

Kyle Van De Giesen's brother, Ryan, wrote a letter read by a friend, Catie Fisher.

"You are my idol, and I am proud and honored to call you my brother," Van De Giesen wrote. 'I remember right before you left for Afghanistan, you told me: "Ry, this tour, this tour is a different tour, more intense, more combat, worse conditions. Pretty much, you can classify this as hell.'

"So I stopped, and I remember asking you with a little fear in my voice if you could just not go, or get transferred to another base of some sort.You then laughed your unforgettable laugh and you looked me in the eyes and said to me: 'Are you kidding me? I'm going to get some. I've got brothers over there right now in battle.'"

A few minutes after the family had left the field, the vast crowd, too, had dissipated into the cold night.

This program aired on November 6, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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