Firefighter Thomas J. Barbieri
Photo credit: Courtesy of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department
Editor's Note: For further information, visit the Rockville Fire Department's website
North Potomac, Md.-- An old photograph shows 2-year-old Thomas J. Barbieri dressed in camouflage and face paint. Another, from when he was 6, shows him in Army fatigues.
But a more recent photo of Barbieri, taken last year when the 24-year-old Army specialist and paratrooper was on duty in Afghanistan, shows him looking more like what his friends and family will remember him as -- a hero.
"He always talked about being a hero and he was," said his mother. "That's how he died, a hero."
Army Spc. Barbieri, 24, of North Potomac, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, was killed by small arms enemy fire on Aug. 23 south of Baghdad, according to a statement released by the Army.
"He was a great kid," said his father, Thomas Barbieri, "a good soldier, a brave soldier."
T.J., as he was called, was the second oldest of four brothers.
"He was a great person, a great brother, a thoughtful brother," said his mother, Carolann Barbieri. "The brothers had a closeness that was unusual."
Growing up, there was always a lot of noise and rough-housing, she said.
"We were all super tight," said his brother David, 27. "We all got into trouble together."
Barbieri attended Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, but transferred to Poolesville High School his senior year and graduated from there, said Michael Reilly, a friend of the Barbieri family and a former teacher at Poolesville.
"He was a shy young man, but he just had a wonderful way about him," said Reilly, who taught Barbieri at Poolesville and also is a close friend of the family. "He was someone who had great insights about things."
He had been in Iraq four weeks, his father said.
The family last spoke to Barbieri at around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, his father said.
"We always told him that whenever he was by a phone, to call us 24 hours a day," he said.
He sounded good on the phone, the family said.
"He was upbeat," his mother said. "He sounded strong, but he didn't like the heat. He told us he loved us and we told him we loved him."
Barbieri joined the Army in October 2004. In 2005 he was deployed in Afghanistan to support the national elections there.
"He was tough as nails," said his brother Stephen, 22. "But he had a heart. He had a big heart."
Before entering the Army, Barbieri was a member of the Volunteer Fire Department in Rockville.
His prized possession was his silver 1967 Mustang, a vehicle that had been passed down through the family.
"He loved that car," David Barbieri said. "That car represented him. That and his aviator shades."
His family and friends remembered him as a young man with a truly unique personality, sharp sense of humor and creativity.
"He was the most naturally gifted of all of us," his brother Matt, 19, said.
He was also a talented artist and writer.
"T.J. was very funny," said Laura Bradbard of Laytonsville, who lived for many years down the street from the Barbieris. "He was very artistic. He drew a beautiful picture for my daughter's bat mitzvah program."
Bradbard said Barbieri's intelligence and wit made him stand out.
"One thing that really struck me was that when he graduated from high school, we sent him a normal graduation present and his thank you note to me was written in the voice of his pet ferret," Bradbard said. "I said to my husband this kid is so sharp and so creative and so different."
Even the soldiers in his company appreciated his humor.
"He was well-liked and respected by all who knew him," 1st Lt. Phllip Smith, former company executive officer of Barbieri's company, said in a statement. "His sense of humor and loyalty will always be remembered by his fellow paratroopers and family."
Reilly said he talked to Barbieri after his first jump as a paratrooper and saw that he had grown up from a boy to a man.
"He's the kind of person you'd call a hero," Reilly said. "Real heroes are people like T.J. He gave his life for this country. And he had a lot to offer."
A memorial service was held in Iraq on Aug. 24. The family is still making arrangements for a local service and a burial with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Copyright 2006 The Gazette.
Republished with permission of The Gazette.
A viewing for firefighter Barbieri will be held Wednesday, Aug 30, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 520 Veirs Mill Road, Rockville, MD 20852.
Services will be held Thursday, Aug 31 at 11:30 a.m. at St. Mary's Catholic Church
Internment will be held Thursday, Aug 31 at 1 p.m. at Arlington National Cemetary in Arlington, Va.