By Marion Filler
A still, grey morning transformed to a swirling sea of blue outside Morristown’s Assumption Church on Wednesday, as Marines and police from as far as California came to say farewell to State Trooper Brian McNally.
The long blue line covered one side of Maple Avenue, while friends and family lined the other. A lone bagpiper announced the arrival of the flag-draped casket and continued to play as military and police personnel followed it into the sanctuary.
Some 300 State Police from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Delaware, and a member of the California Highway Patrol, were joined by enough Marines to take a small country.
McNally, raised in Greater Morristown, served with the Marines in Afghanistan. He died in an off-duty car crash on May 20, 2018, while returning from weekend Reserves duty in Pennsylvania. He was 30.
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin:
Every pew was filled when the Rev. Michael Drury began his homily by saying he could not make sense of the tragedy. Yet he could celebrate a special life.
“What you and I know is that Brian remains with us, his name is not etched in granite but in our hearts. I like to use ‘is’ instead of ‘was,’ because he will always be with us,” the priest said.
McNally’s story did not end on May 20, he continued. “That story began again yesterday and today. How this young man touched so many lives was incredible. He thought everyone was so important.”
Video: The Last Tour of Brian McNally:
SIZE 15 COMBAT BOOTS
Col. Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police quoted Brian’s Aunt Trish, who noted the 6-foot-7 McNally always was a strong presence in the room.
“He stood out in a crowd, not so much because of his height, but more so because of his heart,” Callahan said.
McNally was so willing to give of himself –- from the Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts, to the Morris Township volunteer fire department, Morris Minute Men EMTs, and the Marines and State Police.
“It was all about someone else,” Callahan said.
The last time he saw McNally was November, in the tunnel at MetLife Stadium for Police Enforcement Appreciation Night.
“We line the entire end zone with troopers to salute during the National Anthem. Since we line up in height order, who do you think was first in line? Trooper McNally. It was the first and last time I pulled rank, saying, ‘ Since I’m not going to grow nine inches in the next two minutes, I’m leading the detail out to the end zone,'” Callahan recounted.
McNally was quick to comply.
“The pictures that night are of four or five commanders lined up saluting. Then it looks like the NASDAQ shot up, with Brian McNally in the middle, all 6 feet 7 inches of him.
“Your son was larger than life, he had the heart and soul of a lion,” the colonel told the Trooper’s parents.
Lt. Col Michael McCarthy, commanding officer of the 3d Battalion, 25th Marines, spoke of a memorable visit to B Company from the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
“He was short in stature but the Marines were terrified of him. The Commandant singled out Brian to discuss the training program and as he often did, asked a trick question that we knew was coming. Brian did not.
“It so happened that Brian answered correctly. It was a first, and the Commandant looked up – way up- and hugged him! No one had ever seen that happen before, either. Could have knocked me over with a feather.”
McCarthy said McNally forged an impressive legacy in his short life.
“Although Brian was a giant, his body was dwarfed by his heart and spirit. Brian left a mark – his size 15 footprint left a path to follow. It is said a leader leaves the will to carry on, and he did. We will carry on, Brian. Semper Fidelis.”
Mourners exited to America the Beautiful. Outside, Marines honored McNally with a rifle salute and the playing of Taps.
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, who coached McNally in youth baseball, said this was the largest police funeral he has seen in town during his 30-plus years of duty.
State Police Lt. Ted Schafer, who processed McNally into the NJ State Police Academy, said “we knew he would show great promise, and he did.”
Capt. Ed Conrads of the Morris Township police remembered McNally as a student in the D.A.R.E. anti-drug program at the Frelinghuysen Middle School.
“I remember him as a great community kid, a volunteer with the Minute Men. A quality family, a quality guy.”
Two flags were presented to the McNally family, and the avenue was absolutely silent as the casket slid into the hearse and was driven away.
Playing the Marine Corps Hymn, the solitary State Police piper followed the hearse all the way to James Street for a final and poignant goodbye.