Sept. 5, 2006

Courant Staff Writer

MILFORD -- The young men stood in the funeral
home parking lot, telling tales.

Ill at ease in their shirts and ties, they smoked and
laughed, recounting a series of remember-that-time
stories set in the streets and backyards of Milford.
But the main character of each story, Jordan C.
Pierson, wasn't out there to embellish his friends'

He was inside.

The Marine corporal was in an open casket while
the eyes of hundreds drifted, in turns, across the
chest of his dress uniform and to his face -- like
Jordan but unlike him, as if molded from clay.

For hours during the Sunday wake, his tribe of
friends manned the parking lot while much of the
town shuffled past the impossibility in the casket.
Impossible that this is the Jordan who was once a
center for the wild energies of his friends.
Impossible that the 21-year-old could take a form
that didn't feature the mischief of his toothy smile.

For years, Jordan's room in a detached garage
outside his family's Milford home was often a hub
of wild nights for unruly teens. But Jordan and his
room were also a refuge, especially for friends who
were more lost than others.

In the parking lot, the friends didn't talk about
what lay inside the funeral home that caused
people to leave with reddened faces and
tear-dampened tissues. They talked about Jordan's
room and how they had all learned to sneak
through the yard and into it without waking the

They talked of Jordan's much-abused Honda CRX
and his need to please people. And they talked
about Jordan's love of guns and the military, even
when it came to the video games he wanted to play.

``He was a warrior, man,'' said Michael Amendola,
one of Jordan's oldest friends.

Two of the friends wore Marine uniforms. Cpl.
Mike Brennan had signed up about the same time
as Jordan. As for Lance Cpl. Mark Vargo, it was
Jordan's influence that got him into the Marines.

For Jordan, the Marines held an answer. The
routinely defiant youth found a higher meaning
there, and a greater discipline. And if Jordan could
find that, his friend thought he might, too.

``I was in a pretty rough spot,'' Vargo said. ``My
life wasn't really going anywhere.'' So he said he
wasn't hard to convince, and Jordan gave him a ride
to the recruiter's office.

Vargo ended up with Jordan in Plainville's Charlie
Company, part of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines,
which is known as ``New England's Own.''

Vargo was getting ready to go to Iraq with them
when he was diagnosed with a disease. So he
stayed home and watched Jordan leave for Fallujah,
where he was shot to death on Aug. 25.

``A lot of guilt there,'' Vargo said.
The day after the wake, Jordan's friends were
together again, driving to the Trumbull church
where a memorial service was scheduled. In front
of hundreds, a few of them took turns on the stage,
trying to fit Jordan's life into words, to explain to
outsiders why there was something special within
the mundane.

Kyle O'Connor explained how he struggled to write
about Jordan, but ``the abstraction of friendship
cannot be put on paper,'' he told them. He called
the loss a milestone that people should mark with
changes in their own lives.

Amendola recalled his partner in childhood
mischief, his ``brother from another mother.'' And
he said that in recent years, ``Jordan found new

Jordan's two worlds -- civilian and Marine --
intersected at the church in front of his flag-covered
casket. Marines in dress uniforms filled rows of
seats. Missing at the wake and service, though,
were most of Jordan's newest tribe of brothers, the
Marines of Charlie Company, still in Fallujah
awaiting their orders home.

Only one of the Marines from Fallujah was there:
Lance Cpl. James R. Lauber, leaning on a crutch to
ease the pressure on his shrapnel-torn right leg. He
was hit in a grenade attack two weeks before
Jordan's shooting and arrived home the day Jordan

At the wake, Lauber hobbled to the casket. He put
his left arm out and leaned on a rail next to Jordan
for a moment. Then he reached over and touched
Jordan's chest.

``It could have been me,'' Lauber said as he walked
from the home.

At the service, Jordan's family talked about how
difficult it was to understand him. But in the
church were the two groups: old friends and recent
Marine comrades. Both have their own
understandings of Jordan.

Friends cried and Marines sustained stony
expressions, with Lauber trying to prop himself up
at attention with the others. Then they all filed into
the parking lot to watch Jordan's casket carried
toward the hearse, on its trip toward his
Wednesday burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The sun emerged from behind cover to flash off the
silver casket as the Marine pallbearers put it in
place. Jordan's parents, Beverley and Eric, and his
little brother, Ethan, stood at the open rear door of
the hearse. Eric kissed his fingertips and touched
the casket.

After it left, Beverley talked about the example she
hopes her son set for others.

``For Jordan, it was the Marines,'' she said. ``What
is it going to be for you?''