ST. ANNE, Ill.—An overflow crowd of friends and relatives shared their grief over Marine Capt. Ryan Beaupre on Thursday with strangers who wanted to help bury one of the first American casualties in the war with Iraq.
There was the Army veteran, now a south suburban businessman, who rearranged his schedule to attend the service. The bishop of the Joliet diocese, who assisted in the funeral mass and thanked the family for their son's bravery.
"When I was a little boy, my father was killed in World War II," said Dennis Streicher of Kankakee, who took the day off work Thursday to sing in the choir for the funeral mass at St. Anne Catholic Church, where Ryan Beaupre and his family worshiped.
"He's buried in Hawaii, and I've never had the chance to attend a military funeral," Streicher said. "I felt like [my father] was there with me."
The ritual of a military funeral, with troops in full military dress, the playing of taps and the draping of the American flag, descended on St. Anne Thursday, an event made more poignant because the nation is still at war and more soldiers are at risk.
Across town, yellow ribbons were tied around trees, in honor of troops still serving in harm's way, and many flags were flown at half-staff.
Beaupre, 30, died shortly after the war began, when the helicopter he was flying crashed in Kuwait just outside Iraq.
He was remembered Thursday as a brave soldier who gave up a corporate job to pursue a higher calling in the military and experience life more fully. But he was also remembered as a sensitive, spiritual man, a person who worried about Iraqi casualties and searched for a church on Sundays.
In his sermon at the funeral mass, Rev. James Fanale, pastor of St. Anne Catholic Church, quoted one of Beaupre's letters to his parents after he was stationed in Kuwait. In the letter, Beaupre said he hoped many Iraqis would surrender before America's mighty weapons were turned on their cities.
"To be honest," Beaupre wrote, "one thing that worries me is a lot of Iraqis getting killed.... I fear many will die for a dictator."
For people who knew Beaupre, such sentiments were no surprise.
"He thought about others before he thought of himself," said Hazel Sanchez, a New York City resident who went to high school with Beaupre. "He was just a great guy. He was goofy, but he could be serious."
The grieving continues in tiny St. Anne, population 1,300, where it seems nearly everyone knew Beaupre or his family, and it continues half a world away as well.
Marine Capt. John Wascher, who is deployed to Kuwait and was on the same mission as Beaupre when his helicopter came down, flew in from the Middle East to escort Beaupre's mother during the service and show his support.
A close friend to Beaupre, Wascher said his unit, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., will be forever touched by the loss of Beaupre and three other American crew members. Eight British troops also died in the crash.
"It hasn't changed the mission," said Wascher, who planned to return to Kuwait in a few days. "We have a job to do. ... But there won't be a day that Ryan won't be missed."
Livio Andreatta of Hazel Crest, who was in Kankakee County on business Thursday, attended the funeral mass out of respect for the family, even though he had never met the Beaupres.
"He did what was right for our country," said the Vietnam-era Army vet, who was stationed in Korea. "It's very important that we stand together."
Bishop Joseph Imesch of the Joliet diocese said he wanted to help officiate the funeral mass because the death of a serviceman affects the entire community, whether people know him personally or not.
And for the people who knew Beaupre, the service was a necessary part of the grieving process, a way to say goodbye and celebrate Beaupre's life. In his sermon, Fanale relayed family stories of Ryan Beaupre, such as the time he lost a job at a grocery store because he knocked over a cash register while doing handstands, and how he would irritate a sister by always rushing her out the door in the morning.
"When you can laugh and cry, and nod your head in agreement and applaud at a funeral, what more can you say?" said Cookie Schroeder of St. Anne and a family friend of the Beaupres.