Standing at a podium overlooking a flag-draped coffin, the Rev. Douglas Nagel told hundreds of mourners gathered in Gloucester's First Presbyterian Church yesterday not to think that Army Spc. Eric Thomas Caldwell's life had been taken from him.
To think that, he said amid soft cries coming from the crowd, would cheapen Caldwell's sacrifice.
The 22-year-old soldier, who spent much of his childhood in Salisbury on Maryland's Eastern Shore, was killed in Iraq on Jan. 7 after his patrol encountered enemy small-arms fire north of Baghdad.
His death marked the first time someone from the small Virginia county just north of Yorktown had been killed in the war, and many residents - including some who did not know the soldier personally - reached out to show the family that they care.
They paused a moment outside the church when Army soldiers acting as pallbearers carried Caldwell's coffin to the hearse. Military veterans stood at attention and saluted.
On Main Street, the members of the fire department lifted an American flag up a ladder truck for those attending the funeral procession to pass under on their way to the church. The street was lined with flags, and small businesses throughout the downtown area had flags on their doors.
People would remember Caldwell, who had touched the lives of many, Nagel said.
He was born in Maryland, 14 minutes before his twin sister Andrea. According to family members, he took that 14 minutes seriously and spent years trying to convince Andrea that he was her big brother.
In 1999, he moved to Gloucester, home to his mother's large family, and attended Gloucester High School. He returned to Salisbury in 2003 and joined the Maryland National Guard. He enlisted in the Army two years later.
The soldier's mother, Vanessa Caldwell, said that in death he would have wanted to help his comrades who have been hurt in the fight. The family suggested memorial donations to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Another service was being planned for 1 p.m. today at St. Francis de Sales Church in Salisbury. He will be buried at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Stephanie Heinatz writes for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press.