An organ played as mourners streamed down the aisles of an Annapolis church yesterday toward the flag-draped coffin holding the body of Army Spc. Micheal Benson Matlock Jr.

Specialist Matlock, less than three years out of Glen Burnie High School, died last week in Iraq. Yesterday, he was remembered for his devotion to both the high school sweetheart he married barely a year ago and their baby boy - and for the bravery that enabled him to sign on for battle.

"It takes courage to do what he did. Nobody joins the Army during wartime," said the Rev. Kaipha Downs, who delivered the eulogy, and who had known the soldier since he was a young boy.

"Mike did," she said, to rousing applause from hundreds at the service at the First Christian Community Church.

Specialist Matlock, a 2005 graduate of Glen Burnie High, enlisted in the Army in 2006 and arrived in Fort Campbell, Ky., four months later. Shortly afterward, he shipped out to Iraq as a member of a combat team responsible for security in the northwest part of the Iraqi capital.

Specialist Matlock was an infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division. He had been in Iraq before, returning from a deployment to south Baghdad in September 2006.

He married the former Breon Summers, who was his high school sweetheart, about a year ago. They have a son, Byron J. Matlock, 1.

This month, according to a military publication, soldiers in Specialist Matlock's company captured a suspected Iranian-trained "special groups" criminal cell leader in Baghdad.

Specialist Matlock died Feb. 20 from wounds suffered when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Baghdad. Two other soldiers were killed in the attack.

He was 21.

Cheryl Timmons, an aunt of the soldier, read a letter that Breon Matlock wrote to her husband after his death.

After their first date, his wife wrote, "From then on it was us."

"You said, 'If we love each other we can make it work.' ... I remember the look on your face when I told you would be a father. Your eyes brightened up."

And during their last conversation, the day before he died at 6:15 p.m., the two discussed plans to visit Hawaii, before their call was disconnected.

"You told me you wanted to take me and Byron around the world. ... Baby, I love you so much. You are my heart forever."

Specialist Matlock's sister, Tiffany Matlock, read a poem she had written to her brother, reminiscing about their shared jokes and late-night talks over "Whoppers and Cokes," and freestyle rapping over homemade beats.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold were among the officials who attended the service yesterday. Governor O'Malley said he ordered the state's flags to fly at half-staff in honor of Specialist Matlock.

"We cannot truly feel the depths of your pain, but we can as a community honor the sacrifice of this brave young man," the governor said.

Brig. Gen. Albert Bryant Jr., on behalf of the Army, presented Specialist Matlock's family, including his mother - Sheena Timmons-Douglas of Annapolis - with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Specialist Matlock, on his last tour in Iraq, was there as a "peacemaker," ensuring that Iraqi citizens could live safely. General Bryant told mourners. "He had in his choice to be a soldier, to become something more than an average citizen. He is a United States soldier, now and forever. I cannot think of a more important honor."

As the service ended, the casket was carried outside into the afternoon chill and placed in the awaiting hearse.

A group of veterans on motorcycles, flanked with large American flags whipping in the wind, led the procession from the funeral to the Crownsville Veterans Cemetery, where Matlock was buried.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com