Last year, Aaron Marchanti invited his father to the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.
On Monday, he returned to the event to honor him.
Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II, a member of the Maryland National Guard who went to Afghanistan to help train that country's security forces, was shot to death inside a ministry building in Kabul in February. The Baltimore County man was one of seven Marylanders remembered Monday at the cemetery in Timonium.
"Memorial Day was always important growing up because my dad's been in the military my whole life," Aaron Marchanti said. "So it was always like a big, important holiday for us. … But this year, obviously, it means so much more."
Veterans, active-duty troops, families and supporters gathered amid the flags and the grave markers at Dulaney Valley to remember the Maryland service members killed over the past year.
Honored were Air Force Master Sgt. Tara F. Brown, 33, of Bowie; Army Sgt. Barun Rai, 24, of Silver Spring; Army Sgt. Jameel T. Freeman, 26, of Baltimore; Army Spec. Ronald H. Wildrick Jr., 30, of Woodsboro, Air Force Airman First Class Matthew R. Seidler, 24, of Westminster; Air Force Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, of Upper Marlboro; and Marchanti, 48, of Gardenville.
They bring to 118 the number of fallen Marylanders recognized at the cemetery since Sept. 11, 2001.
The event was one of hundreds across the nation Monday as Americans remembered their war dead. At Arlington National Cemetery, President Barack Obama spoke of the first U.S. deaths of the Iraq War: four Marines killed in a helicopter crash near the border with Kuwait.
They included Staff Sgt. Kendall Waters-Bey of Baltimore. The president called Waters-Bey "a proud son" of the city and "a proud father" who was remembered by a fellow service members as "a light in a very dark world."
At Dulaney Valley, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said the majority of the military is made up of "regular, ordinary people who have accomplished the extraordinary."
"Since the sensational raid on Osama bin Laden was carried out by Seal Team Six last May, the U.S. special forces have become the stuff off Hollywood legend," said Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
"[But] for more than 230 years, it has been the job not of super-secret, elite operatives, but of everyday Americans who have carried out the work of war. …
"Today, we honor seven everyday heroes."
Edward Chow Jr., Maryland's secretary of veterans affairs, spoke of the diversity of the U.S. armed forces.
"Our ancestors have come from different parts of the world," said Chow, a Chinese-American who won a Bronze Star as an Army captain in Vietnam. "They came from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Spanish-speaking countries to join our Native American brothers and sisters. They came to this country to make a better life for themselves and their families. In return, they gave of themselves to make this the best country in the world. …
"Now the names that are representing America are from Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and the Arab countries," he said. "Isn't it an irony that our ancestors have come from all over the world and now, as in the past, we are helping some of those same parts of the world to remove the tyranny that they have endured?"
Robert Marchanti, who was married with four children, was a longtime physical-education teacher in the Baltimore County schools. Aaron and Jonah Marchanti walked arm in arm to accept a plaque honoring their father.
Jonah Marchanti, 18, said he was proud of his father — "How many people would be willing to put their life on the line for their country?" — but losing him has been "really rough."
"My dad was the foundation of our family," he said. "He's the leader. So getting used to living life without him here, it's really hard."
He said the ceremony was emotional.
"It's kind of hard to take it all in at once," he said. "There's feelings of happiness, knowing that Dad's in heaven, but then there's sadness that he's not here with us."
Aaron Marchanti, who served in the Maryland Air National Guard, attended the 2011 ceremony as a rifleman in the honor guard.
"I asked my dad to come last year and my mom to watch me fire over there on the hill," he said. "I never thought I'd be back mourning like this."
He said he felt sad, proud — and grateful.
"I'm feeling real thankful today for all the troops and everything that they've done, and these people that are laid out here" — gesturing to the graves at Dulaney Valley — "for what they've done for our country."
Seven more fallen Marylanders
•Air Force Master Sgt. Tara F. Brown, 33, Bowie; shot to death by an Afghan military trainee in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 27, 2011
•Army Sgt. Barun Rai, 24, Silver Spring; died in a vehicle rollover in Logar Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 3, 2011
•Army Sgt. Jameel T. Freeman, 26, Baltimore; killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Aug. 11, 2011
•Army Spec. Ronald H. Wildrick Jr., 30, Woodsboro; killed by an IED in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 11, 2011
•Air Force Airman First Class Matthew R. Seidler, 24, Westminster; killed by an IED in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Jan. 5, 2012
•Air Force Senior Airman Julian S. Scholten, 26, Upper Marlboro; killed in an air crash in Djibouti, Feb. 18, 2012
•Maryland National Guard Maj. Robert J. Marchanti II, 48, Gardenville; shot to death in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 25, 2012