CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — One of the things Raymond Palecco will miss most are the sports talks he used to have with his son.
Every week, Seaman Adam Palecco, 21, made a call to his adopted family in Hackettstown, N.J., from Okinawa, where he was a dental technician assigned to Camp Hansen.
“We used to talk about the Knicks, when the Knicks were a good team,” Raymond Palecco said with a smile during testimony Wednesday at the court-martial of his son’s murderer in Keystone Circuit Court.
Then he broke into tears.
“We love Adam,” he told Lt. Col. D.J. Daugherty, the military judge. “I don’t think I’ll ever be right. I don’t think my wife will ever be right.”
According to evidence and testimony presented at the trial of Seaman Robert L. Person Jr., 19, Palecco was stabbed to death Feb. 2 on Camp Hansen by three other dental technicians who wanted to prevent him from giving authorities information about their involvement in a shoplifting ring.
Although Palecco faced court-martial for theft, prosecutor Capt. Keith Parrella said he was a minor figure.
Palecco was a good-natured young man, his mother said, adding that once he bought ice cream for everyone in his school’s cafeteria. She has been an invalid for six years and gave her testimony by telephone.
“He just wanted to make everybody happy,” she said.
“He was just emulating them and got caught,” Parrella said of the shoplifting charge. “It was just an example of him trying to fit in.”
Adam Palecco was born in South Korea and was given up for adoption by his mother when he was 4. At the age of 8 he arrived in New Jersey knowing little English, but winning his way into the Palecco family with a big smile and a loving nature, his father said.
He was a year younger than Palecco’s other son, Jason, seven years older than his sister, Kelsey, and no less part of the family, Raymond Palecco said.
He said his son was proud to be a sailor, joining the Navy right after he graduated from Hackettstown High School in 2002 so he could go to college someday on the GI Bill. The last time he came home for leave, Christmas 2003, he was so excited about his new calling that he donned his cammies to show off.
“I was so proud of him,” his father said.
It was the last time they would ever see their son.
Palecco’s body was so disfigured, his head nearly decapitated and his left eye gouged out, that the family was advised to have a closed-casket funeral.
That was the cruelest blow of all, Palecco’s mother testified.
“Mr. Person made it so we couldn’t see our son one last time,” Bonnie Palecco said. “But Mr. Person will always be viewable.”
Her sobs, from thousands of miles away, filled the hushed courtroom.
“We’re very proud of Adam and what Adam did by serving his adopted country,” she said after pausing to regain her composure. “We’ll always wonder what a great future he might have had in the Navy, and now we’ll never know.”