Oceanside football player honors fallen Marine, his brother
After Justin Buckley scored a touchdown in Oceanside High School's first game of the season, he stood in the end zone thinking of his brother Greg. Then he snapped his right arm to his helmet and offered a crisp military salute in his brother's honor.
Friday night, Justin and his teammates will salute his brother in another way.
Justin, 17, a senior running back and receiver, will begin wearing No. 30, his brother's old varsity basketball number, when his team takes to the field for its first home football game. The Sailors players will wear camouflage jerseys against East Meadow and will observe a moment of silence to remember the 21-year-old Marine who always wanted to see his brother play varsity football.
Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr. was killed Aug. 10 in Afghanistan. To his grieving family, he was the son and brother they will never forget. Friday night will be one more step in that process of remembering.
"We talked like every day," Justin said. "Me and him were best buds."
Where Greg went, his two brothers, Shane and Justin, followed, the boys' father, Greg Sr., said. And where the Buckley boys went, he said, it was loud, it was happy and "everything was perfect."
That was true even after Greg Jr. was deployed. The last time he came home on leave, in March, he sneaked into Justin's bedroom and tried to playfully pin him down in the middle of the night, Greg Sr. recalled.
But Justin wasn't so little anymore. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound football player had outgrown his Marine brother in the past few years, and despite the surprise, Justin flipped him over within minutes of wrestling. With no recourse, Greg Jr. began to tickle him. The laughter could be heard throughout the house.
"They were two kids who had an older brother that they could look up to," Greg Sr. said of Justin and the middle brother, Shane, 18. "They look up to him today."
His oldest son may not have been able to overpower Justin any longer, but he could always make him laugh, Greg Sr. said.
Most of the laughter is gone from the Buckley home. "That's why it's so devastating," Greg Sr. said.
It was there that Buckley, who was just days from making a surprise visit home, was shot and killed, along with two other Marines, by a person who served as an aide to a local Afghan police commander.
Greg Sr., who said he supports the Marines, but can no longer support the war, won't soon forget the way his sons handled the loss of their brother.
"They stood up as men. But in the middle of the night, you hear them screaming and crying in their rooms and we ask, 'Why didn't you cry during the day?' They say no, we have to be there for you."
Although shattered by the news, Justin chose to continue with football practice.
"I remember speaking to [Justin] after it happened and us telling him that he could take as much time as he needed," Oceanside football coach Rob Blount said. "He said he wanted to be back as soon as possible. It was one thing that could give him a sense of normalcy."
Greg Jr. is the reason the two other boys started playing football, Greg Sr. said, though Justin is the one who stuck with it the longest. Shane, a freshman at Nassau Community College, stopped playing around the time his brother enlisted.
"I looked up to him tremendously," Shane said, for a while even ordering the same IHOP breakfasts when the family went out to eat. "His personality was one of a kind. He'd walk into a room and everything he said was hysterical."
Justin's relationship with Greg took a different tenor after the eldest brother joined the Marines. Greg loved football and would scour the Internet for information about his brother, messaging him on Facebook and calling his mother for daily updates.
"He used to come to my games," Justin said, recalling his youth league days. "He never came to any of my high school games, though. Because he was always in the Marines."
Justin scored two touchdowns in his team's 42-6 victory over Valley Stream Central last week. Both times, he saluted his brother.
The gesture revealed the tattoo on Justin's right arm, which reads "Family."
The tattoo on his left arm, the one holding the football, says "Forever."