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Mourners fill church for Marine's funeral

Greg Buckley Sr. after the funeral Mass of

Greg Buckley Sr. after the funeral Mass of his oldest son fallen U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr. (Aug. 18, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Family, friends, fellow Marines and strangers moved by his sacrifice bade farewell Saturday to Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr. -- a Long Island son who lost his life half a world away.

More than a thousand people filled St. Agnes Cathedral while still more packed the sidewalks outside, standing silently as Marines in dress uniform carried the coffin. Some wiped away tears. Others held hands over hearts.

The solemn procession in Rockville Centre included bagpipes, a fire truck and more than 100 motorcycles.

Inside the cathedral, the sobs of mourners echoed off vaulted ceilings. The funeral Mass for the Marine killed Aug. 10 in southern Afghanistan capped more than a week of intense grief for the Buckley family and the tight-knit Oceanside community he grew up in.

"I could never be prouder of anyone in my life. He's more man than me and more man than anyone I know," said Greg Buckley Sr., who choked up when he took the podium to say a few words at the Mass. "I have to accept that the Lord took my son for a reason. . . . He gave us so much in such a short period of time."

Buckley, 21, was just days from a surprise visit home when he and two other Marines were fatally shot by a 15-year-old boy working for an Afghan police chief.

Back home, Buckley was best remembered for his easygoing personality, his basketball skills and love for his younger brothers, Justin and Shane. Both brothers spoke at the Mass.

"He's my hero and my role model," said Justin Buckley, 16.

"Every moment with Greg was a good moment," said Shane Buckley, 18.

Eight Marines slowly walked Buckley's coffin into the cathedral about 2:30 p.m., his family following behind. His mother, Marina, sobbed loudly, supported on either side by her sons. She clutched a framed portrait of Greg in his military uniform.

Buckley Sr. rested his head on Shane's shoulder as the four trailed the coffin, clutching one another, as it approached the altar.

"The hole in our hearts is as big as that American flag draped across the fire truck outside," said Msgr. William Koenig of St. Agnes Cathedral, who gave the homily.

Buckley's death was a loss for his family, the local community "and our entire country because he made the ultimate sacrifice," Koenig said.

He recognized Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who were among those in the standing-room-only crowd.

Friends and family said Buckley enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Oceanside High School. He was one of six Marines killed within 24 hours by Afghans in "insider attacks." While assigned to the 3rd Battalion, he served as a logistics and facilities adviser.

He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.

His accomplishments weren't lost on strangers who showed up to pay their respects.

Brendan and Jennifer Corrigan, both 37 and of Rockville Centre, brought their two young daughters, Keira and Megan.

"He gave his life to fight for our country. I thought it was important for my girls to see the kind of sacrifices Marines make," Brendan Corrigan said.

Jack Butler, 78, a veteran from Oceanside who watched from across the street, said Buckley's death impacted many.

"War means nothing until it hits home," he said.

About an hour before the funeral began, about two dozen of Buckley's friends gathered in front of the church. They urged people to "like" the Greg Buckley Jr. Facebook page -- part memorial and part campaign to end the war.

Buckley's body was accompanied to Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, by a procession of more than 100 Patriot Guard Riders, motorcyclists who appear at military funerals with the families' permission, and an Oceanside fire truck decorated with flowers.

To the sound of a lone bagpiper, five of Buckley's fellow Marines lifted his coffin -- covered with an American flag -- from a hearse. Buckley's parents draped their bodies over the coffin.

"I love you. I love you," his sobbing mother said.

"Taps" was played before Buckley was laid to rest, by the shade of an oak tree.

With Robert Lewis

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