Six green-uniformed, white-gloved soldiers lifted the Stars and Stripes reverently and held it taut above the gray steel casket containing the body of Army Staff Sgt. Ronald M. Randazzo.
His mother and father, sister and brothers clutched each other tightly as a seven-member firing party from Headquarters Command, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Meade, fired a three-volley, 21-shot salute from their M-16 rifles.
But the fiercest emotions surfaced, and the tears burned, when Staff Sgt. Thomas R. Anderson played taps on a silver trumpet, and the plaintive notes moaned across the quiet of East Baltimore's Oak Lawn Cemetery.
Sergeant Randazzo, a member of what his former commanding officer called "a true-blue Army family," was the second Marylander killed in Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf and the first to be buried locally.
He and two of his men were killed Feb. 20 when Iraqi artillery fire hit their anti-aircraft vehicle while they were on a reconnaissance mission along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border.
The moment of final farewell came yesterday, 6,000 miles from the gulf, as the pallbearers folded the flag twice lengthwise and then into triangles. Sgt. 1st Class James Brunson smoothed it carefully before presenting it to Paul and Leona Randazzo, the dead soldier's parents, with the gratitude of his country.
Sergeant Brunson stepped back and saluted. It was over.
Earlier, a funeral Mass attended by about 400 people was said in the small, salmon-brick Church of the Crucifixion in Glen Burnie, where the Randazzo family worships. The huge cross on the front of the church was draped in mourning purple.
Among the congregation was a red-jacketed delegation from the Knights of Columbus, who presented a memorial plaque that will be mounted in the church, said the Rev. Louis H. Pabst, the pastor.
Father Pabst, who served as a chaplain's assistant in the Army in World War II, said the Mass with Auxiliary Bishop William pTC Newman, representing the Baltimore Archdiocese. In his sermon, said the deaths of Sergeant Randazzo and his fellow soldiers were not in vain.
"Ronald gave himself so we might continue to live free in a nation built on freedom," he said.
One of those who attended was 1st Sgt. Raymond Marks, a 24-year veteran of the National Guard unit in which Ron $l Randazzo served before he joined the Army in 1987.
"He was a highly motivated, high-speed soldier who loved the Army, loved the infantry," Sergeant Marks said.
One of Sergeant Randazzo's brothers, 1st Lt. George Randazzo, is the executive officer of the Guard unit, Company A, 2nd Battalion of the 115th Infantry.
At the church door stood 1st Sgt. Frank Schultz, who said he helped to recruit the Randazzo family into the National Guard after a visit to Glen Burnie High School sparked their interest. Sergeant Schultz said he visited their home, and George and Kenneth Randazzo and their father, Paul Randazzo Jr., joined up.
"If he'd been old enough, I'd have gotten Ron, too, but he was still too young. He came later, though," said Sergeant Schultz.
Ron Randazzo joined the Guard in 1984, the year before he graduated from Glen Burnie High. He became a "well-mannered, well-motivated soldier" who wanted a career in law enforcement, probably the FBI, Sergeant Schultz said.
Sergeant Randazzo, who was scheduled to leave the Army this autumn -- before the Persian Gulf war erupted -- had planned to return to the National Guard while he studied law enforcement, according to Maj. Bruce Kahl, the logistics officer for the 3rd Brigade of the 29th Division, based at the Pikesville Armory.
"We had a slot all ready for him," said Major Kahl, who was a captain and commanding officer of the National Guard company when the Randazzos enlisted.
"The Randazzos were a true-blue Army family, and we made a big deal of having a father and two sons sign up together," Major Kahl said.