50 years on: The beautiful way a community honors fallen Marine
Written by Scott Lynch
This Thanksgiving will mark 50 years since U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Francis Muraco, also known as ‘Butchie,’ made the ultimate sacrifice in the Vietnam War. For his sister, Mary Tighe, this Thanksgiving will mark 50 years of living without her best friend. “Butchie and I were best friends,” says Mary, “He and I were as close as can be. We even covered for each other when we got into trouble-much to my parents chagrin.” Mary and her family have thought of her “always smiling” brother every day since his death. For Mary’s family and the community around them, this Thanksgiving will also mark 50 years of remembrance and honor.
Military service runs in the Muraco family. Butchie’s father, Francis Muraco Sr., served in the U.S. Army under famed General George Patton and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in World War II. When the draft for the Vietnam War began, Butchie enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. “Butchie and a few of his friends were prepared for the draft,” Mary remembers, “but Butchie was the only one who was likely to be drafted so he enlisted in the Marines.”
Butchie’s family was proud of his decision to serve but were fearful with his decision to enlist in the Marines in particular. “My parents knew that Butchie was hell bent on serving, but my dad knew exactly what the Marines did in wartime and knew my brother would be on the front line,” says Mary. “He did everything in his power to convince my brother to enlist in another branch but there was no use because the Marines meant so much to Butchie and that is where he wanted to be,” she added.
While Mary remembers the immense pride her family felt with Butchie’s service, she also vividly remembers the fear that her family felt with him serving as a Marine. Their worst fears were confirmed on November 23, 1967 when Butchie was killed by a land mine.
The pain is still fresh for Mary Tighe. “I still have not gotten over Butchie’s death,” she says. “I never got to see the body or make peace after he died.”
The Muraco family might never make peace with the loss of Butchie but their Winchester, Massachusetts community has rallied around them. “Our friends and community have given us the greatest honor ever since the day we found out Butchie was killed,” Mary recalls. “I remember the church being full for his funeral and there being a line down the street for his wake.” Tighe even recalls then State Representative Sherman (Whip) Saltmarsh reaching out to the family.
While the community grieved with the Muraco family they also sought out ways to remember Butchie. “One of the first ideas that came to mind was to rename the new elementary school (then named the Tufts School) in the neighborhood where Butchie grew up after him.”
“When our friends approached my parents about the idea of the school being named after Butchie we felt incredibly honored,” says Mary. “Butchie grew up and played in that area his entire life so it made sense and meant the world to us.”
In 1969, Tufts School was officially renamed Francis J. Muraco Elementary School.
Ever since its renaming, Muraco Elementary has held a ceremony every Memorial Day to remember Butchie and honor the Muraco family. Butchie’s family and friends have been present at every ceremony since 1969.
“Butchie’s best friend Billy Shields has never missed a Memorial Day ceremony and neither have I,” Mary says. “Every year I feel so honored and humbled to see all of these people remember Butchie so many years later.”
For Tighe, having the elementary school named after her brother is the greatest honor because of the impact it had on her children and still has on her family.
“My daughters got to attend a school named after their uncle,” Mary says. “They got to see and think about what a hero their uncle was every time they walked through the halls.”
While Muraco Elementary School represents a huge honor to Tighe, she wants it to represent a lesson about her brother to all of the children who attend the school.
“I just want every kid who goes to that school to know that my brother was just like them,” says Mary. “He played there and learned there just like them and he will always be a kid just like them.”
Tighe hopes that the memory of her brother and the Memorial Day ceremonies at the school teach the children the importance of honoring those who served.
“The least we can do for every service member is remember and honor them,” she says. “They are willing to risk everything for our country and for our freedom so the least we can do is honor them and their heroic actions.”
While this Thanksgiving will mark 50 years since the world lost Butchie, it will also mark 50 years of preserving his legacy and impacting generations of people with his story.