In an aged cemetery, beneath a leaning evergreen, on a morning warm with the promise of summer, Marine Cpl. Christian Scott Cotner was laid to rest Saturday with full military honors.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell was among the crowd of about 500 mourners who attended the service. Rell said she was there to share the family's loss and pay her respects. "Losing a child is every mother and father's worst nightmare," she said.
Other top state officials in attendance included Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Comptroller Nancy Wyman.
"I went to school with Scott and also worked with him at Roller Magic," Amy Percy, of Naugatuck, said before the service. "I always remember him as being funny. He could always make me laugh. He was just a sweetheart."
Percy also remembered Cotner as being gung-ho. "He always talked about the Marines. He really wanted to go over there."
Another friend, Lauren Galanti, of Waterbury, said Cotner's death brought home the reality of the war.
"Until I heard about it, I never thought much about Iraq," Galanti said. "When I realized Christian isn't coming back, I realized the war is real."
One person not surprised by the large turnout was Waterbury Mayor Michael Jarjura. "Waterbury is a very patriotic city," he said. "We support our own."
Shortly before 9 a.m., 146 members of the Patriot Guard Riders arrived on their motorcycles. The group, which consists of many ex-service members, often attends services of fallen soldiers.
After dismounting their bikes, Patriot Guard Riders took up large American flags and lined the road into the cemetery.
"As we drove up and saw the flags, I started to cry," Rell said.
When the motorcade following the hearse bearing Cotner's body arrived, it was led into the cemetery by a riderless horse with a pair of backward boots in the stirrups. The horse, named Melody, is owned by Marine Rick Kowalker of Cromwell and was making its 169th appearance at a service member's funeral.
The casket was unloaded by a contingent of Marines. As is tradition, a Marine stays with the body from the time it arrives back into this country until the time of interment, Staff Sgt. James Battisti said.
Following prayers, the Marine guard unfolded the flag that had covered the casket and held it spread out as a squad of Marine riflemen fired a three volley salute.
The flag was then refolded and presented to Cotner's parents. Cotner's mother, Karen, her son's dog tags hanging from her neck, gently stroked the tightly folded flag for the rest of the service.
A memorial service at First Congregational Church in Waterbury followed the burial.