A final salute to Voluntown's fallen son

Susan Hull of Lisbon joins other mourners who gathered Wednesday for the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler O. Griffin in Voluntown. Hull, who has a son serving in Afghanistan, said she wanted to pay her respects to the Griffin family.
Susan Hull of Lisbon joins other mourners who gathered Wednesday for the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler O. Griffin in Voluntown. Hull, who has a son serving in Afghanistan, said she wanted to pay her respects to the Griffin family. tim cook/the day Buy Photo

Voluntown - At the conclusion of Tyler Griffin's funeral Wednesday, the Marines called the roll.

Four in a row answered. Then Marine First Sgt. Anthony Barcenas called out, "Lance Corporal Griffin."

Silence.

"Lance Corporal Griffin."

Still no response.

"Lance Corporal Tyler Griffin!"

The silence that would have been broken by Griffin's response during his brief Marine Corps career was instead answered by a bugle playing taps.

The 19-year-old Voluntown native was killed on April 1 during combat operations in Afghanistan's Helmand province, according to the Department of Defense. Another Marine, Sgt. Frank J. World, 25, of Buffalo, N.Y., also died.

Griffin, the son of Susan Perry Wilding and Brian Griffin, who predeceased him, and John Wilding of Voluntown, had been a Marine for 18 months and was stationed in Afghanistan for about 30 days before he was killed. A 2008 graduate of Griswold High School, he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

On Wednesday, as the flag-draped casket that had traveled more than 6,000 miles from Afghanistan was taken to and from the sanctuary of the Voluntown Baptist Church, all that could be heard was the click of the Marines' heels on the pavement.

The New London Firefighters and the Mystic Highland pipe bands played the "Marine Corps Hymn" as Griffin's fellow Marines carried his casket inside, followed by "Amazing Grace" as they returned it to the hearse at the ceremony's conclusion.

The wind whipped dozens of American flags held by members of the Patriot Guard and color guards from active-duty and retired military units and emergency services personnel from eastern Connecticut.

Hundreds of mourners saluted the casket and stood with hands over hearts, until it disappeared into the doorway. The church's sanctuary was too small to accommodate the crowd, leaving dozens of people in the reception hall to watch the funeral on TV.

About 400 people gathered outside the church to listen to the service on a sound system.

Some attendees started to sob as Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" played over the church's sound system, at the request of Griffin's mother.

During the service, Pastor Franklyn Ward shared stories about Griffin's boyhood, calling him "a young man who personified the phrase 'all-American boy,' (and) 'all-American hero.'"

"Right from the get-go he loved to climb trees and play in the mud. He loved loud, obnoxious music. He loved playing jokes on others," Ward said, citing a time when Tyler and his sister, Sarah, went to the customer service desk at Wal-Mart to say they were lost just to hear their mother's name called over the PA system.

"He loved baseball and football and track and going to the gym. … He loved his mother, he loved his father, he loved his family," Ward said.

Griffin was described as a hard worker who took pride in a job well done, whether it was washing the dishes or serving his country, he added.

Griffin loved his town, Ward noted, and had asked his parents to sell the family house only to him.

"I'm going to miss that little guy, his big smile and his big heart," his grandfather, Arthur Griffin, told the mourners, which included Gov. M. Jodi Rell and other dignitaries. "It seemed he was always trying to do something good for somebody. He had confidence - confidence since he was 3 years old - that he was going to become a Marine."

As a Marine, Griffin volunteered for dangerous assignments so somebody else didn't have to, his grandfather said.

Chaplain Don Biadog Jr., commander, U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps at Naval Station Newport, asked those in attendance to take a moment to notice the new bulbs in bloom as a reminder that after the death of winter there is life.

"While in Afghanistan, Tyler knew that there was no turning back," Biadog said. "He threw himself into the fight and knew what bravery and courage was all about. Tyler has faithfully lived the principle of our core values, which happen to be the Navy and the Marine Corps values: honor, courage and commitment.

"The highest tribute we can give to Tyler and other heroes who are dead is not grief, but one of gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice."

Ward said Griffin's life has taught people that their actions of today matter.

"Tyler's young life did preach," Ward said. "He spent the brevity of his days wisely, and in doing so he left behind him a legacy, a very costly legacy, of honor and courage and commitment … so I say thank you, Tyler, for reminding us all that it is not how long we live, but how meaningfully we live that matters."

Griffin will be buried Monday in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

m.bard@theday.com

Upcoming events in honor of U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tyler O. Griffin:

On Monday night, volunteers at the Voluntown Fire Department will collect items to send to Griffin's unit, which is still stationed in Afghanistan.

On Memorial Day, Voluntown will unveil Griffin's name on the town's war memorial.

In June, a fundraiser will be held with the proceeds, in Tyler's name, going to charity, possibly Wounded Warriors.

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