LAUREL HILL — To his younger sisters, Eugene Chrisco was a mischievous older brother who loved teasing them as much as he loved playing baseball.
But when he graduated from Laurel Hill High School in 1965, Chrisco wanted to become the best Marine he could.
A year later, when he and several others strayed upon a landmine near Danang two weeks after arriving in Vietnam, he lost his life and became his family’s hero.
“He was in California and then they were supposed to send him to Hawaii for further training, and they didn’t have the training,” said Jeannette Cannady, who was 15 when her brother died. “They shipped him right on over.”
After a funeral with full military honors at Woodville Pentecostal Holiness Church, the private first class was buried on May 16, 1966 — the day before his 19th birthday. On Saturday, to mark the 50th anniversary of Chrisco’s death, the family will hold a memorial service at 2 p.m. at Peele’s Chapel Wesleyan Church on 20781 McEachin Road.
After enlisting despite his parents’ protests, Chrisco was one of the first service members from the area to be killed in the Vietnam conflict.
“He volunteered to go and they tried to talk him out of it because the war was getting so rough over there and they wanted him to wait and see if he would be drafted later,” said his sister Shirley Howell.
Both women remember their brother’s funeral in a haze, having witnessed their parents’ and older siblings’ pain through the numbness of their first encounter with death.
“It was the first time we’d ever seen Daddy cry,” said Cannady, who vividly remembers the 21-gun salute.
“When they did the first round I almost jumped out of my chair. We didn’t realize what a military funeral really consisted of. He came with an escort who stayed with the body until he was put in the ground.”
Saturday’s service is open to all who knew Chrisco, and all who wish to honor a fallen Marine who embodied the spirit of military service.
“He was so young, he hadn’t even had a chance to live and he was over there fighting for our freedom,” said Howell, whose experience losing her older brother at the age of eight has left her with a profound sense of pride in the nation’s armed forces and those who put their lives on the line in the name of the United States.
“We’re in heated and air conditioned homes and walking around free and they’re over there wondering when the next bomb’s going to go off or where the next sniper’s going to be. They’re over there fighting so you and I can walk free, and when people disrespect the military, I don’t understand it. I really don’t.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.