NEW BEDFORD -- A soldier from New Bedford who was killed in a training exercise in California will be laid to rest with local honors Saturday but ones that have been adjusted for the coronavirus crisis.
U.S. Army Pfc. Justin Candido Kirby, 21, was killed at Fort Irwin National Training Center on March 9 while taking part in what officials describe as a "large-scale" exercise within the center's training grounds, according to a statement from officials.
On Monday there was a memorial service for Kirby at Fort Irwin's Main Post Chapel, according to Fort Irwin's Facebook page, but due to guidance related to the coronavirus outbreak the service was invite-only.
The outbreak has also influenced his services here at home.
Rather than having a service that is open to the public and would likely exceed the governor's mandate for no events with groups of 25 people or more, the family has opted for a private burial with military honors that will take place at Sacred Heart Cemetery in New Bedford, according to Rock Funeral Home Managing Director Jeffrey Davis.
The family is still offering a way for the public to pay their respects, however.
Davis said Kirby will be coming into Logan airport tomorrow afternoon and there will be a procession from the airport. Anyone that wishes to can stand along the route to show their support to the family, while practicing proper social distancing.
Chris Leger is Kirby's cousin and said on Friday, "To not be able to mourn his loss with family members is so upsetting.... I understand the precautions and social distancing, it makes sense. But I don't like it regarding instances as this, i.e. family death."
Leger said she hopes they can honor him in some way, "He deserves it. He was such a beautiful person."
At Christmastime, Leger said she saw him, "he was showing everyone his beautiful newly done tattoo of Butler's Flat lighthouse in New Bedford on his right forearm. He was so proud of his New Bedford Heritage."
Kirby is part of the Raffa family, according to Leger, which runs Ma Raffa's, Pa Raffa's, and Ricarrdi's restaurants in the area and said, "Our Raffa family is extremely close, we gather together for all occasions and it's always huggie/kissie."
According to Kirby's obituary, he enjoyed working at Pa Raffa's while he was in high school and college.
He graduated from Global Learning Charter Public School in 2016 and earned his associate's degree in Fire Science from Bristol Community College in December 2018, enrolling in the military a month later.
Kirby's father Robert Kirby was a firefighter and Global Learning Principal Lena Pires said he planned to follow in his father's footsteps.
Pires said she understands that the precautions for the coronavirus are difficult but necessary.
"He deserves much more, but I think he would understand and he would want us to be safe," Pires said, "That's a no-brainer there because that's the way he was."
The Global Learning community is working to honor Kirby with the creation of a college scholarship, Pires said, and it's not a needs-based or academic scholarship but one based on student growth, "because that was what Justin was all about...personal growth"
Pires said one of the ways they'll raise money for the scholarship is having a dress down day for students the Friday before Memorial Day if school is back in session.
"We want to honor Justin's life, this was his dream and we want to help other students fulfill their dreams in any way that we can," Pires said.
Friend Eric Santos said though the pandemic has presented a challenge, Kirby will still be honored by hundreds even if it isn't a designated time.
"There isn't a wrong time to honor a life, and the circumstances don't minimize the mourning of his friends and family members," Santos said. "Remembrance isn't one occasion, but a continuous action throughout all our lives."
Kirby will be remembered at a state-wide level tomorrow, Governor Charlie Baker ordered that the American and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts flags be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday, the day Kirby will be interred, according to the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services.
First responders from the city will also be participating in the procession in force tomorrow. The New Bedford Police and Fire Departments will be present, according to Davis, as well as a Military Honor Guard, the family members, and the funeral home.
Davis said he wouldn't be surprised if the State Police participated as well.
Kirby was the son of Patricia (Cox) Kirby and Robert Kirby and his wife Dawn of New Bedford and leaves behind his twin brother Jason A Kirby, his older brother Richard A. Kirby of South Dartmouth, a sister Angela Russano and two older brothers in Florida.
This article is written by Kiernan Dunlop from The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.