Residents lined several Butler County roadways Thursday to give a hero’s welcome to a fallen soldier killed in Afghanistan.
More than 200 people were on hand to pay their respects when the body of Army Staff Sgt. Robert A. Massarelli landed at the Butler County Regional Airport.
Massarelli, 32, was injured when a truck he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He died June 24 after being evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, according to the Department of Defense.
Sgt. Michael J. Strachota, 28, of White Hall, Ark. also died in the explosion as they served as part of the 96th Transportation Company, 180th Transportation Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command in Fort Hood, Texas.
Massarelli grew up in Kentwood, Mich., a suburb of Grand Rapids, and was a 1998 graduate of East Kentwood High School. His parents live in Hamilton.
He is the son of Pat and Mary Massarelli of Hamilton. Massarelli also had two brothers, Mike and Ben Massarelli.
Massarelli’s body was transported to Colligan Funeral Home in Hamilton with a procession lead by motorcycle riders with the Patriot Guard.
“It’s fitting that we honor him a day after July 4th. Soldiers like him allow us to have the freedoms we have,” said Joan Blumenstock, as she stood on Main Street with her 7-year-old daughter.
Visitation services are scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Badin High School, located at 571 New London Road. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Julie Billiart Church, 224 Dayton St., Hamilton. Burial will follow at St. Stephen Cemetery, with full military honors.
Sgt. Laura Bulvas said in past years she worked in the same platoon as Massarelli with the 66th Transportation Company. She said Massarelli always maintained a sense of humor.
“Sgt. Massarelli wasn’t the type of guy that wanted to be in the spotlight, he was often in the background but everyone knew him for his quirky sense of humor,” Bulvas said. “Sgt. Massarelli was truly a genuine guy, he always had good intentions in everything that he did. He will truly be missed.”
Michael Zoerhoff, assistant superintendent of human resources for Kentwood Public Schools in Michigan, said Massarelli was a dedicated student who rarely missed a day. During high school, Massarelli was a part of the school’s residential construction program to build a home for the community.
Lauren Pack contributed to this story.