Bethesda soldier recalled for love of racing
His mother will accompany his wife and children to ceremony naming Rockville Memorial Library
A few days before his death in March, Army Spc. Anthony A. Paci bought a motorcycle.
It still is sitting in his driveway. His wife, Erica Paci, has not moved it.
The Bethesda native loved motocross, which is motorcycle racing on closed off-road tracks. He sought out airstrips to race on. Beginning at age 15, Paci probably read every issue of Motor Trend magazine cover to cover, said his mother, Helene Paci. He enjoyed skateboarding. He loved the thrill racing gave him so much that he gave his son Judah, one of Paci's three children, the middle name Race.
On March 4, Paci was in Gereshk, in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, as part of an international coalition of 15,000 troops in Operation Moshtarak, when the vehicle he was in rolled over. Paci, who was based at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, Wash., was 30 when he died. He was posthumously promoted to sergeant. He had been deployed to Afghanistan since July of last year.
He left behind Erica, Judah, and two other children, Tallulah and Mila, along with grieving family members.
"I'm fortunate enough that I can be proud of how my son lived and how he died," Helene Paci said.
His grandmother, Maylou Hatzes, who lives in Gettysburg, Pa., last saw her grandson in December when he came home to see his mother and father, Leo. Anthony Paci visited her occasionally on weekends in Gettysburg. The military gave Paci, who withdrew from Walt Whitman High School during his senior year, the structure and discipline that enabled him to thrive, Hatzes recalled of her "very sweet boy."
During his leave, Hatzes said, Paci expressed interest in visiting soldiers he knew who were recuperating from injuries at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., although he ultimately didn't get a chance to see the soldiers he wanted to.
"He just thoroughly fit right in. He never complained. He did everything he supposed to do," said Hatzes, a former Rockville and Olney resident, of Paci's time in the Army.
The Rockville Library will be renamed the Rockville Memorial Library on Friday. Helene Paci plans to attend and bring Anthony Paci's three children. The library has displayed some personal effects related to Paci, along with other county residents that died while serving in the armed forces. These effects, such as his picture and a pamphlet from his Arlington memorial service, soon will be returned to his family.
Paci served in Iraq from December 2005 to November 2006. His awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army National Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Infantry Badge and Expert Infantry Badge.
From Paci's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery on March 25, which Helene Paci described as a surreal experience akin to "living in a Hollywood movie," she recalled the words of Gen. Mark Milley.
"He said, I bet each and every one of you is asking, is it worth it?'" she said. "He went on to explain why it is worth it."
Milley, Helene Paci said, never left Erica Paci's side throughout the day. Hatzes, meanwhile, estimated 50 family members attended Paci's funeral, of out of a total of about 300 attendees.
The family received a motorcycle escort to the funeral from the Patriot Guard Riders, a nonprofit that sends its members to military funerals to show respect for deceased members of the military and their families.
Erica Paci is scheduled to visit Helene Paci this weekend Memorial Day weekend to participate in activities organized by Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a nonprofit that supports those who have lost family members on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. The two women speak on the phone daily.
"Me and Erica are each other's person, at this point," Helene Paci said, using a phrase to describe best friends on the TV drama "Grey's Anatomy." "We're very close."
Since her son's death, Helene Paci has traveled to visit the mother of Frederick's Cpl. Kurt Shea, who died in Afghanistan earlier this month, and wants to regularly participate in American Gold Star Mothers, an organization for mothers who have lost sons and daughters while serving in the military. She has also visited Walter Reed to visit wounded soldiers, including one who was in the vehicle with Paci on March 4 when he died.
"That was pretty bad. It was very emotional. But we just wanted to talk with him," she said.
Paci's three children have "daddy dolls" that play a recording of Paci's voice, and Helene Paci said the children sometimes kiss the dolls. But otherwise, the children are too young to have any memory of their father.
"They're only going to know what we teach them," she said.
MEMORIAL DAY EVENTS
Saturday, May 29
The 22nd annual Hometown Holidays, Rockville; Saturday-Monday. The three-day festival in Rockville Town Center will feature entertainers, children's rides, arts and craft festival and the Taste of Rockville. Rock band Soul Asylum will perform 7 p.m. Sunday. Memorial Day Ceremony is 9:30 a.m. Monday, followed by a parade. www.rockvillemd.gov/events
Sunday, May 30
Memorial Day Observance, Gaithersburg, 2 p.m. Wreath-laying ceremony at Christman Park, 304 W. Deer Park Road. Guest speaker Maj. Dave Buffaloe, strategic planner for the Army Transformation Office, will lead the ceremony. Bring small items to donate to active military members overseas. Contact Dorthy Winder at 301-258-6350.
Memorial Day Service, Damascus American Legion Post 171, 1:30 p.m., 10201 Lewis Drive. The Browningsville Cornet Band will begin the ceremony with a concert of mostly patriotic music. Call 301-253-0769.
Rolling Thunder, Washington, D.C., noon. About 400,000 veterans will ride from the Pentagon to the Lincoln Memorial on their motorcycles as a tribute to American war heroes. The annual motorcycle demonstration is held to call for the government's recognition and protection of Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action. Speakers and music follow at the west end of the Reflecting Pool at 1 p.m.
Monday May 31
Memorial Day Observance at 11 a.m. at Ernest Park, on the corner of Warner Street and Armory Avenue in Kensington. A ceremony, led by resident Lorri Simmons will honor members of the Armed Forces as well as men and woman in uniform who have died in service. Call Simmons at 301-962-5153.
Jewish War Veterans will honor Americans who served in all wars at 2 p.m. Monday at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, 6125 Montrose Road in Rockville. The program is free. Call Walter Gold, commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 692, at 301-881-8810 or 202-439-1936 or e-mail WalterLGold@aol.com.
Friday, May 28
Renaming ceremony for Rockville Library, 11 a.m. A formal ceremony renaming of the library to the Rockville Memorial Library will be held at 21 Maryland Ave. Throughout May, the library is displaying memorabilia lent by local families who have lost loved ones in major military conflicts.