FLEMING ISLAND – The pews of a Fleming Island church were filled with friends and families last week who said goodbye to U.S. Navy Lieutenant James A. Mazzuchell during a funeral mass.
During the 10 a.m. funeral mass held March 9 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, over 200 people sang hymns such as “How Great Thou Art” and “I Am the Bread of Life.” Guests listened to Mazzuchelli’s uncle share memories of his late nephew and heard his grandfather share verses from Ecclesiastes before heading to the Jacksonville National Cemetery in a formal funeral procession.
“Despite our feelings of sadness, it was a beautiful funeral held for an incredible person,” Bobbi de Cordova-Hanks, a friend of Mazzuchelli’s mother, said.
On Feb. 24, 32-year-old Mazzuchelli – who grew up in Clay County – died from injuries obtained during a military helicopter accident at Camp Pendleton, California. Mazzuchelli was a Navy flight surgeon, assigned to the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, a part of Marine Aircraft Group 39, Third Marine Aircraft Wing. Because of this, and his service as a member of the military, Gov. Rick Scott, who attended the funeral, asked that all U.S. and Florida flags be flown at half-staff at the Orange Park Town Hall, Duval County Courthouse and State Capitol to honor Mazzuchelli’s service.
Scott was not available for comment the day of the funeral but the governor put out a statement reflecting on the life of Mazzuchelli and the importance of military members in our Florida communities.
“As a flight surgeon, Lt. Mazzuchelli courageously served our country alongside his fellow Navy sailors and our U.S. Marine Corps, and his legacy will long be honored and remembered by his loved ones and by the State of Florida,” read the statement. “As a Navy veteran myself, I urge all the military members to take this opportunity to thank the military members in their communities as we continue to pray for Lt. Mazzuchelli’s family during this difficult time.”
During the funeral, Mazzuchelli was remembered by fellow military members, including the U.S. Marines he last served with, as they presented the gifts, a Catholic tradition that usually sees friends and family bringing the bread and wine to be used for communion to the priest. Captain Clint Neiss and Captain David Axel of the Marines presented the gifts. Mazzuchelli’s cousin, Brianna Anthony, and his grandfather, Dennis Guzzo, read prayers and verses, and lead the congregation in hymns, all in honor of their fallen family member.
Mazzuchelli’s Uncle, Scott Guzzo, though, was tasked with writing a eulogy. Battling tears, Guzzo remembered Mazzuchelli as the man he was not only at home but in the field as well.
“He gave more than he received and it was never about the recognition, but more about the task at hand,” Guzzo said. “Although we lost a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a godfather, a grandson or a friend, we didn’t lose the memories and what he stood for, so when times get tough, just ask yourself, ‘What would James do?’ because he can pull you through it.”
Mazzuchelli was an advocate for charities and organ donations throughout his life, with his family even asking that in lieu of flowers for the late lieutenant, donations be made to further organ donation. They asked donations be made in Mazzuchelli’s honor to The Semper Fi Fund – an organization that offers financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 survivors – and the United Network for Organ Sharing – a private, nonprofit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system under contract with the federal government. Guzzo looks forward to one-day learning of the lives his nephew’s organs have saved.
“Someday I hope to find out more about his organ donation, maybe have a drink with his liver, have a touching story with his heart, share a priceless vision with his eyes or just be educated on how he continues to help others from afar,” Guzzo said.
For obvious reasons, Mazzuchelli’s family and close friends were not available for comment but friends of the family, such as deCordova-Hanks and Maureen St. John were. Both breast cancer survivors, the women attended the funeral to support Mazzuchelli’s mother, herself a fellow breast cancer survivor Christine Cheers.
“I’ve only met her son once but Christine is family and that means [Mazzuchelli] is family,” deCordova-Hanks said. “With all of the stress and fighting in the world, we need peace and it doesn’t matter where you come from or how much money you have in the bank – when there’s a tragedy like this where a young life is lost, we need to be there to support the family and that’s why we are here today.”
St. John knew Mazzuchelli a bit more than her friend deCordova-Hanks and found herself at the funeral not only for support of the family, but also to give thanks to a fallen member of the military.
“I’m here to thank James, not in sadness, but thanking him and thanking his parents for raising him to be such a focused and determined man, whether it be at home, in the military or even as someone who chose to be an organ donor,” St. John said. “He’s never going to be forgotten and I think because this is a military town, that’s what keeps our spirits going. We need to be a support group to everybody.”
James is survived by his mother, Christine Cheers, father, John Mazzuchelli, step-father David Cheers, and step-mother Trina Mazzuchelli as well as two sisters April and Ashlen Cheers. Surviving Grandparents include Virginia and Dennis Guzzo as well as Jack and Lolly Mazzuchelli. He will be missed greatly by uncles, Scott, David and Bryan, Aunts, Renee, Lisa, and Mary, two nephews, Joseph and Ryder, seven cousins, Ty, Logan, Brianna, Sarah, Alyssa, Cheyenne and Bella, one Godchild Leo, as well as many other extended family members and close friends.