Mechanicville residents lined downtown streets, waved flags, and released balloons as the body of Lance Cpl. Anthony J. Denier was escorted back to his hometown Monday afternoon.
On-and-off rainfall didn’t deter the hundreds of city residents standing along Central Avenue and Main Street or the 800 students at Mechanicville Junior-Senior High from showing their respect for the 26-year-old Marine who was killed by enemy fire Dec. 2 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The entire student body of the Mechanicville school, where Denier attended classes during his younger years, was standing outside the school holding small American flags as the procession went around the entrance circle of the school,
Mechanicville city police, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, and state police led the procession that included 80 motorcycles piloted by members of the Patriot Guard Riders escorting the Marine’s hearse from Albany International Airport to Mechanicville.
The Patriot Riders, whose slogan is “standing for those who stood for us,” attend the funerals of soldiers killed in action. The motorcycle riders come from throughout the Capital Region, Vermont, as far west as Utica, and as far south as Poughkeepsie.
Ryan Stewart temporarily closed his family’s Mechanicville Country Living hardware store on Central Avenue so that he could stand and wave a large American flag when the hearse containing Denier’s body passed by.
“The whole town is shut down,” he said about local businesses turning out to honor the fallen Marine. “I don’t have a flag left in our store.”
He said he must have sold between 200 and 300 flags of various sizes over the past week.
Stewart said Anthony Denier, who worked as a commercial painter before joining the Marine Corps in early 2011, used to come into the hardware store to buy things.
“He was underspoken and very handy. Just a real nice guy,” he said about Denier, who is often described as a shy and soft-spoken person. He said Denier always knew what he was looking for and never needed much help from store employees.
A sign in front of the hardware store said: “Thank You for Our Freedom, Anthony Denier.” Signs in front of many downtown businesses honored Denier, such as the McDonald’s sign on Central Avenue that read: “Our Fallen Hero, L CPL Anthony Denier. He gave all.”
Joan Smith of Malta held a umbrella in one hand and a red helium balloon in the other waiting for the procession to reach North Central Avenue.
“I wanted to honor him for his sacrifice, what he did for us,” she said.
She said her son, Randy Smith, of Troy, joined the Marine Corps in the mid-1980s.
Even though her son returned home uninjured, Smith said she was still “feeling the pain of his mother.”
Gloria Pierce of Stillwater, also holding an umbrella and a balloon, said she comes from a military family. Her husband was in the Army for 22 years and her son, daughter, and son-in-law were all in the Army over the past two decades.
Pierce said she wanted to honor Denier “and let the family know that we care.”
At 12:20 p.m., when the procession came up Central Avenue, people along the roadway released their balloons. The procession turned onto Saratoga Avenue and the hearse went past Denier’s home on Grove Street before the police cars, firetrucks and escorting motorcycles headed south on Main Street to American Legion Post 91.
Calling hours were held at the Legion Post. Hundreds of friends and family members attended, as well as officials including members of the City Council, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook; U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam; and state Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga.
Denier was the son of Mary Denier Morgan of Mechanicville and Manuel Contreras of Miramar, Fla.
City Accounts Commissioner C. Mark Seber said he watched the procession from in front of McDonald’s on Central Avenue before walking back to City Hall. City Mayor Anthony Sylvester was among those who met the charter plane carrying Denier at the airport late Monday morning and rode in the procession northward.
Seber said about 200 American flags were given out to residents at City Hall Thursday and Friday.
“We ran out,” he said.
Seber said he did not know Anthony Denier himself but people who did know the Marine described him as “a quiet, respectful, nice young man.”
“He was a sound individual. He had never been in trouble,” he said. “It’s a tragedy. He is a hero.”