First published in The Record on July 4, 2013
Bridge dedication for fallen Marine
The congressman talked. The mayors talked, the county executive talked, the nervous man from the VFW talked.
Then the thing had to be done, and the crowd of 200 people on Independence Day fell silent. They waited for a new sign to be unveiled honoring Osbrany Montes De Oca, a Marine lance corporal killed in combat last year in Afghanistan.
The sign was covered by a blue tarp, and the tarp was snagged and would not come off. The people stood in the heat, looking.
It was the family of the fallen Marine who acted. Jorge Moreta, an uncle of Osbrany, hugged his son Isaiah and hoisted him off the ground. Isaiah prodded the tarp with a stick. It took some time. When they lifted the tarp away, the crowd cheered.
"There just isn't much to say," Moreta, 39, said after the ceremony, which renamed the Route 7 drawbridge in North Arlington the Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca Memorial Bridge. "We miss him. That's all."
Osbrany and his twin brother, Osmany Montes De Oca, joined the Marines together, just as they did everything together. As the remaining twin stood on the bridge over the Passaic River, his neighbors, high school friends and former teachers said how strange it was to see him standing alone.
"You simply could not separate them," said Michele Vespoli, who led the brothers in gym classes at North Arlington High School. "They were always together."
On rare occasions when they were apart, the brothers liked to play games. They would change shirts in the hall and walk into each others' classes; they were so identical that teachers couldn't tell the difference.
"It was just about the coolest thing that ever happened in middle school," said Alexis Granell, 21, a classmate.
Before the ceremony began, Osmany Montes De Oca smiled and talked softly to friends and strangers wishing him well. When the bagpipe began its drone and the Marine honor guard marched onto the bridge, his demeanor changed, flexing his chin and clenching his fists as he stood beside his mother.
"I am very upset," said Miriam Montes De Oca, mother of the twins. "I do not want any of them to go."
Next month, the remaining twin's supply unit is scheduled to ship out for another tour of Afghanistan. His older brother Sandro left on Wednesday as part of a Marine tank unit, also bound for Afghanistan. Their departures come a year and a half after their brother was killed by small arms fire while on patrol outside Del Mar Base in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan in February 2012. He was 20.
"This is a very sad thing to see. I can't picture myself in the mother's shoes," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson. "I tell you, this is bravery."
As family members took seats on folding chairs on the bridge, a series of elected officials rose to make speeches about the sacrifices the Montes De Oca family has made and continues to make.
"To Osbrany's family, I say thank you very much. All 918,888 residents of Bergen County are always in your debt," said County Executive Kathleen Donovan.
"He is a homegrown hero. He lived an honorable life," North Arlington Mayor Peter Massa said of Osbrany. "We also honor Osmany and Sandro. May you stay safe."
After the speeches, Miriam Montes De Oca and her brother Jorge stood to receive a wreath heavy with red roses and white lilies from the Marine honor guard. Together they carried it to the edge of the bridge. They paused, said nothing, and threw it into the river.
Riflemen from VFW Post 4697 raised their guns to the sky and fired a three-shot salute. The crowd pressed in tightly. The spinning spent cartridges flew by within inches of neighbors and friends, who did not flinch and did not plug their ears.
"He was my nephew, but really he was my son. He grew up with us," said another uncle, Randall Moreta of Clifton. "There is an empty space in my heart."
Finally the crowd of people walked down the hill to watch the sign's unveiling. Members of the VFW used wire cutters to snip the ropes off the blue plastic, but they could not pull the tarp down.
As they've done three times already, the Montes De Oca family stepped forward.
"I was a little nervous" to walk up in front of the crowd and remove the tarp, said Isaiah Moreta, 13, cousin of the dead Marine. "I was just happy to help out anyway I could."