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Vermont Marine remembered for dedication to duty

HARTFORD, Vt. -- A football jersey with the number 80 hung at the front of the Greater Hartford United Church of Christ. A Marine Corps flag flew at the back of the sanctuary of the white clapboard church, and the Marine Corps hymn was played slowly over the pipe organ.

Family, friends, the community, and the state paused yesterday as Lance Corporal Jeffery S. Holmes made his final trip home, eight days after he was killed in Fallujah, Iraq.

Holmes, 20, was a 2003 graduate of Hartford High School. He was sent to Iraq last summer, soon after he completed Marine Corps boot camp.

"There came a point in Jeff's life when he knew what he wanted and he was willing to die for it," said the Rev. Janice Chilek during a funeral service yesterday morning.

"That's probably a lot more than most of us know," Chilek said. "Jeff made a commitment, and he did it with courage. I guess that's what being a Marine is all about: honor, courage, commitment."

Holmes played football for three years at Hartford High School, and he was a member of the Civil Air Patrol at the Lebanon, N.H., airport.

Holmes initially wanted to join the Air Force and fly fighter jets, his parents told the Valley News shortly after they learned of his death. But, at 6-feet, 2-inches, he felt he was too tall to fly the jets, so he joined the Marines.

Governor James Douglas and Senator James Jeffords led the delegation of official mourners. Major General Martha T. Rainville, the head of the Vermont National Guard, was there.

A day earlier Rainville sent off 130 National Guard soldiers for training before overseas duty. Some of the Guard members are expected to go to Iraq.

Holmes was one of two Marines killed Thanksgiving Day during house-clearing operations in Fallujah.

Holmes was the 13th service member with Vermont ties to die in the war in Iraq. A 14th soldier died of natural causes in Kuwait before entering Iraq. Holmes was buried at the Vermont Veterans Cemetery in Randolph.

Katy Dana of Hartford, whose son grew up with Holmes, said Holmes wouldn't have wanted to avoid danger.

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