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Close-knit Hereford grieves loss of its young

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The school flag at Hereford High flies at half-staff, again. Another wreath with stars and stripes bears a different name on its purple ribbon.

And a care package once destined for Marine Cpl. Joshua D. Snyder in Iraq, will instead go to someone else.

In the last six weeks, the school has lost two football players from the Class of 2002, both Marines stationed in Iraq. During that time, a Hereford freshman also died in a car accident, and the pain has been felt throughout the community.

"It's probably the most painful time that I've seen," said Hereford Middle's principal, Cathy Walrod. "In the midst of it all, education has to go on."

Yesterday, Snyder's brother, Brian, a sophomore, thanked the high school's For Our Troops club for its efforts. Other students asked whether the school would honor Snyder, who was killed this week while on patrol in Fallujah, as they had Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III of Parkton, who was killed in late October when a suicide car bomb exploded near him while in combat in Karabilah.

The two men met in middle school and enlisted in the Marines together three years ago. They were assigned to different battalions of the 6th Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and had been in Iraq since September.

Their deaths prompted many to think of Grant Hemmerly, 21, another football player who graduated with Snyder and Anderson. Hemmerly enlisted in the Marines last year and is in Iraq.

The three helped their football team win a 2001 state football championship. In August, Hemmerly was a groomsman in Anderson's wedding. Hemmerly's mother, Sue, said many of his friends and family gathered at her home after the ceremony to retire Anderson's number after his death.

The deaths have placed a heavy burden on the rural community, which many residents describe as close-knit despite the distances that separate neighbors.

"That's three big events that have happened up here within five weeks. Hereford's not used to this," said Sally Kelley, who lives next to the Snyder family, as she ate breakfast at the Wagon Wheel restaurant, close to the high school where her daughter and Snyder graduated three years ago.

The schools anchor the far-flung homes in the "Hereford zone" - 225 square miles that extend to Maryland's border with Pennsylvania and are known for a wintry climate that sometimes cancels classes even when roads are passable elsewhere.

Hereford Middle is the only school that feeds into Hereford High, and the same buses transport students to both schools.

"All you have to do is come to a football game or a band concert or a play," said Hereford High's principal John W. Bereska. "The school is an important part of their lives, and they support it even after graduating."

John Callahan, a member of the Class of 1987 who owns a coffee shop near the school, called Bereska yesterday to find out how me might create a permanent memorial to Snyder and Anderson at the school.

At the middle school, the children paid tribute last month to their former schoolmate, Joseph Baseman, who died in a car crash Nov. 8, by adopting his preferred attire, said Walrod, the principal. They wore tie-dyed T-shirts and sweat pants, she said.

Friends at Hereford High also tie-dyed shirts to wear in his honor, and members of his English class wrote messages on his desk and chair.

Within the high school, students and faculty say they are staying focused on school while remembering their fallen friends and appreciating those who remain. Bereska said he hugs a student who returned to school in good health after going into cardiac arrest during class in October "every time I see her - and I see her every day."

On Friday, students in the school's For Our Troops club discussed redirecting a supply package that had been prepared for Snyder for someone else. They also distributed buttons for a planned USO fundraiser. Those who had been assigned to write letters to Snyder prepared to send their letters to his family.

Club adviser and math teacher Jennifer Greenwood also told those corresponding with Hemmerly that "he's going to need some nice letters."

"It's like losing a brother in two different families," said club member Jonathan Chih, a senior and football player who plans to enlist in the Marines days after he graduates in May.

Sgt. Jeff Gonzalez, a U.S. Marine recruiter, stopped by the club meeting to answer questions and to show two short films about the military's efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"This is what we do," Gonzalez told the club. "We go out there and take care of business, and sometimes we lose people."

"This young man, he should be honored as a hero," he told them.

Snyder's brother Brian, a sophomore, thanked the group for their efforts.

"He's still my hero. I still look up to him," said the 15-year-old, whose birthday is next week. His older brother also would have turned 21 this month.

Brian Snyder said his brother believed in his mission. He said his brother had told him, in a recent phone conversation, "I ain't coming home until the job is done."

Funeral arrangements for Snyder had not been finalized.

Guidance counselor John Roth said he remembered Snyder returning to visit, wearing his Marines dress uniform.

"It's something he wanted for a long time," Roth said. "He did us proud."

liz.kay@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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