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Franklin lays Green Beret to rest

Robert Pirelli, 29, remembered for devotion to duty

FRANKLIN -- The Town Common, filled with dozens of people holding American flags, was silent yesterday afternoon.

"He's coming," said a man, and with that, the people stepped to the curb along Union Street, watching as the hearse carrying the body of Staff Sergeant Robert R. Pirelli passed under a giant American flag hanging from the extended ladders of two firetrucks and made its way to St. Mary's Church.

Pirelli, 29, a Green Beret killed by small-arms fire in Iraq on Aug. 15, was remembered at a funeral Mass yesterday as a humble, honest, and dependable man, and a soldier whose devotion to duty surprised no one.

"Your courage, leadership, and sacrifice will never be forgotten," said Colonel Darcie Rogers of the Army's 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in which Pirelli served.

"It was a privilege to serve with you in our nation's Army and an honor to count you among the ranks of those who earned the Green Beret," Rogers said in a brief eulogy after reading a poem written by Pirelli's family.

The mourners, who included Governor Deval Patrick, filled every pew of the church, where Pirelli attended Mass as a teenager.

"When I remember Rob, I remember an 18-year-old high school senior who after every Sunday Mass would walk down the front stairs of this church, make his way over to me, shake my hand, and we'd talk for a few minutes about his beloved Franklin High hockey team," said the Rev. Thomas J. Walsh in his homily. "And his eyes would just sparkle."

Pirelli, who majored in criminal justice at Northeastern University, was an aggressive winger full of energy and passion on the rink, said Chris Pelley, who played high school hockey with Pirelli and had been close friends with him since childhood.

"He gave it everything he had on the ice," said Pelley, who stood with former teammates outside the church after the funeral. "But he did that with everything in life."

"He's been like that since he was a kid," said Tom Gatley, a family friend who coached Pirelli in youth hockey. "He was just a great guy."

Pelley, who said he had been laughing with Pirelli's family recently about the camping trips the two took to Mount Washington in New Hampshire, said the memory of Pirelli's smile would stay with him for life.

"That smile never left" his face, Pelley said. "It never left."

As mourners left the cool church and stepped into the sweltering heat and the humidity, neighborhood residents distributed water bottles.

Some of the people who had waited on the Town Common during the funeral Mass made the short walk to St. Mary's Cemetery and stood in the shade while Pirelli's family, friends, and fellow soldiers gathered around his grave. After seven special forces soldiers fired a rifle volley, members of Pirelli's unit, many of whom were weeping, hugged his relatives.

Pirelli enlisted as an infantryman in December 2003 and was serving his first tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed, according to a news release from the Army's Special Operations Command.

Pirelli is the second Franklin resident killed in Iraq. Marine Lance Corporal Shayne M. Cabino, 19, was killed in October 2005 by a roadside bomb.

Ryan Haggerty can be reached at rhaggerty@globe.com.

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