TOPSHAM, Maine — Friends of Army Sgt. Corey E. Garver say they first learned on Facebook that the 26-year-old soldier had been killed in Afghanistan.
Garver, who was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday, was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Fort Campbell, Ky.
His life ended on June 23 when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in the Paktiya Province of Afghanistan.
Garver grew up in Topsham and attended Mt. Ararat Middle and High schools, and joined the Army in June 2007 as an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division.
It was his third tour, said childhood friend C.J. Dirago, who got to know Garver in middle school.
The two lived near each other in Topsham — Garver on Old Farm Road and Dirago on Tedford Road — and would bike to each other’s homes.
Dirago said he later grew apart from Garver, who he said got into a lot of trouble in high school.
But by senior year, Garver had decided enough was enough and began making good decisions, Dirago said, turning his life around.
The two had talked about going into the military, and Dirago himself was headed to the U.S. Naval Academy until deciding last minute not to.
So when Garver enlisted in the Army, “I was very proud he was doing it,” Dirago said.
He felt the military had always been on the horizon for Garver, whose father had been a career military man and wanted that for his son, “but it took Corey a long time to want if for himself.”
Dirago said he found out Garver was killed in action via Facebook — surreal news that sent him frantically trying to confirm.
Perhaps it sounds selfish, he said, but he wished he was there, too, putting in the time as Garver did.
“But at the same time, I was thinking Corey wouldn’t have wanted to go any other way,” Dirago said. There is obvious sadness, “but to die doing something of such great selflessness and service, I think is just an honorable way to go.”
Garver could often be found when on leave having some drinks at Joshua’s Restaurant and Tavern on Maine Street in Brunswick, and that is where nearly 30 of a diverse group of his friends gathered the evening of July 6 to reminisce about the passing of their friend and classmate.
Just a year ago, Dirago said, Garver had stood at that very bar “drinking whiskey with friends talking about his tour of duty. He knew the danger of his service and was not afraid.”
There was also a class reunion elsewhere in the tavern that night — but when Dirago rang the last call bell to get attention, the room grew silent.
Then he made a toast to his friend, followed by a rendition of “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes.
Many of us are here tonight to raise a glass to our friend, Sgt. Corey Garver. Corey was killed in Afghanistan on June 23rd. He was 26 years old.
He died with a gun in his hand fighting for those too weak to fight for themselves.
In memory of Corey and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we raise a glass.
Cheers to you, Corey.
At that informal gathering was Andrea Doughty, who went to high school with Garver and was a very close friend. Garver visited her in Boston in April before his last tour and she and her brother went to see a Bruins game with him.
“He was excited to be going, he was ready,” Doughty said of Garver. “Corey was all about the military; he was all about the action, and he was ready to go.”
Doughty said Garver had talked about getting out of the military and what he would do; possibly use the GI Bill and go back to school, but hadn’t nailed down any plans.
“It is difficult,” she said of losing her friend. “He had aspirations and one of the last times he was home, he talked about having a family, so that’s really difficult.”
Garver and his mother, Ellen, didn’t start off close, Doughty said, but when she saw Garver in April he had just visited his father and mother and was very proud of the relationship he’d formed with his mom.
“Corey grew up a lot and part of that was fixing the relationships in his life,” Doughty said.
Doughty flew down and attended the wake Tuesday and the military honors held at Arlington National Cemetery, as did many other friends.
During military honors, several awards for valor and distinguished service were presented to his family, including two Army commendation medals, the Army Achievement medal, two Army Good Conduct medals, the National Defense Service Medal, two Afghanistan Campaign medals, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
“It was amazing. It was really special,” Doughty said of the ceremony. “Corey would have been really proud. He would have been really proud to see all those people and know he was among the greatest heroes.”