For soldier's town, a time to mourn

CAMBRIDGE -- For 19 days, an entire town hoped its prayers wouldn't end as they did yesterday.

When 1st Lt. Adam G. Mooney disappeared after a Jan. 25 helicopter crash in Iraq, the residents of this Eastern Shore community hung yellow ribbons around telephone poles.

Shop owners extended hope on their marquees.

Katie Mooney marked her and Adam's first wedding anniversary without him.

And Mooney's family tried its hardest to keep his deepest wish: If anything happened to him, not to tell his 8-year-old daughter until it was certain he hadn't survived.

On Feb. 13, the military recovered Mooney's body, and Cambridge traded its hope for sympathy, as only a small town could.

Residents hung hundreds more yellow ribbons. Shop marquees changed to honor Adam Mooney. Nearly 1,200 people -- more than a tenth of the town's population -- showed up for his funeral yesterday.

And 8-year-old Sydney Mooney sat in the front row, carrying a stuffed bear clad in military greens and black boots.

The Rev. Larry Bruno Bogacz told the assembled crowd of a conversation he had with Sydney while she was wearing a white dress on Monday night.

"It's my angel dress," she told him. "It's the dress my father gave me. There's even wings that go with it."

Her father always loved to fly.

The death of Mooney -- the seventh Maryland serviceman to die in Iraq since the war began 11 months ago -- highlights its still lasting impact on the country's Main Streets. Residents also lowered flags and tied yellow ribbons in Conway, Ark., the 50,000-person town where his wife lived.

No one around Cambridge, not even Police Chief Ken Malik, could remember any recent gatherings larger than Mooney's funeral.

"It's been a real coming together," Malik, a 30-year resident, said of the past few weeks. "I've never seen anything where the people have come together like this."

Yesterday's funeral service was held at Sailwinds Park, behind the hospital where Mooney's mother once worked as a physical therapist. His elementary school was less than three miles away. And so is the white house with green shutters where he was raised. A sticker -- the kind parents use to help firefighters find children -- remains affixed to his upstairs bedroom.

Inside an industrial-style hall overlooking the Choptank River, the services began yesterday with Mooney's family greeting guests in a line just feet from his flag-draped coffin. As childhood friends, high school acquaintances, military buddies from ROTC and neighbors filtered into the gym, a slide show flashed pictures from Mooney's life.

They showed him playing soccer.

They showed him learning to fish.

They showed that he and Sydney have the same smile.

Friends said it was fitting that the five-minute slideshow depicted Mooney from childhood to manhood. He grew up quickly, they said. He was 28 when he died.

"He took life seriously," said Anne Whaples, whose son went to school with Mooney. "He was a good boy and he grew up to be a good man."

They remembered the 1993 Dorchester-South Cambridge graduate as a strapping youth with dirty blond hair who was a perfect fit for the military. As a boy, he played laser tag in camouflage, and he had military-like intensity on the soccer field, they said.

He earned his pilot's license about the same time he earned his driver's license. He enlisted in the Army in 1996, earned a scholarship and graduated from University of Maryland-Eastern Shore in 2000.

Mooney's unit -- 3rd Squadron, 17th Calvary, 10th Mountain Division -- left Fort Drum, N.Y., for the Middle East on Oct. 26. As an aviator, Mooney flew helicopters at treetop level, typically at night.

On Jan. 25, he was sent along with Chief Warrant Officer Patrick D. Dorff, 32, of Buffalo, Minn., in an OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter to search for the last soldier missing from a capsized watercraft on the Tigris River. The capsizing killed two Iraqi police officers and a translator.

Witnesses said their helicopter hit power lines and plummeted into the river. Dorff's body was discovered four days after the crash. It was another two weeks before residents in Mosul found Mooney's body.

After yesterday's 70-minute ceremony, marching soldiers wheeled Mooney's body out of the hall, the "rat-tat" from their shoes echoing.

On the ensuing 10-mile drive to Old Trinity Church Cemetery, the town's grief could be seen all around.

The miles-long funeral procession passed flag wavers in front of Dairy Queen, a liquor store marquee message in memory of Mooney, scores of flag-toting employees standing before an electrical business, and hundreds of solemn high school students and teachers lining the front of his alma mater. A man on the corner of Chesapeake Drive and Route 16 carried a sign that read simply, "Thanks, Adam."

Residents had marked the entire procession path with ribbons, never missing more than 50 or 100 yards. Where there were no telephone poles, they used signs. Where there were no signs, they used wooden stakes.

A man driving a red pickup truck pulled to the side of Route 16 to let the funeral procession pass. He doffed his camouflage hat and placed it over his heart.

All of it overwhelmed the Mooney family.

"I have never been to something like this, ... the ribbons everywhere, the turnout," said Mooney's uncle, Dale Garber. "This just doesn't happen."