On Memorial Day, the Rev. Kenneth H. Homer stood before his congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd and read an e-mail from Lance Cpl. Patrick Ryan Adle, a young man the Bel Air parish called "our Marine."
In that e-mail, Homer said, Adle thanked the congregation "for all the stuff we had sent to him - so much stuff that he gave away much of it to those who had not received anything from home."
Homer recalled that e-mail yesterday as he led a funeral service for the 21-year-old former Fallston High School football and lacrosse star, who died June 29 while evacuating wounded from a skirmish in Baghdad, Iraq.
Hundreds filled the sun-drenched sanctuary and spilled out into the vestibule to hear friends remember Adle as an outstanding athlete, a devoted son and a dedicated Marine. That he was in the lead vehicle when it struck a roadside bomb was no surprise to his pastor.
"That's where you put your best people, those who are most committed and the most vigilant," said Homer, also an Army Reserves chaplain. "It is their job to protect. The lives of everyone else who follows depends on their actions."
Adle, who joined the Marine Reserves while a senior in high school, died with two others - Sgt. Alan Sherman of northern New Jersey and Cpl. John Todd III of Montgomery County, Pa.
Homer comforted the gathering of more than 500, many of them former Fallston High classmates, saying, "Patrick was where he wanted to be, with those he wanted to be with and doing what he wanted to be doing."
'No other branch'
Men and women in military uniforms sat among family and friends of the young man who, his parents said, joined the Marines to protect his family and his country.
"We all joined senior year," said Lance Cpl. Kevin Deremeik, 20, who served in Iraq with Adle last year. "We just wanted to be in the service, and there was no other branch for us but the Marines."
Many at the service wore yellow ribbons given by the family as a reminder of the many military men and women serving their country.
"You see all these uniforms, pageantry and drill today," Homer said. "But military service is about a life of sacrifice and exertion, of saying good-bye and doing without and doing what you are told. All that is at odds with the culture high school seniors are immersed in."
The church's pews filled early, more than 90 minutes before the 10 a.m. service. Adle's family filed in behind his flag-draped casket while the congregation sang "How Great Thou Art." His mother, Pam Adle-Watts, accompanied by her husband, John Watts, and a Marine officer, walked up the aisle singing. Adle's father, Michael Adle, and his brother, Michael Adle Jr., followed.
High school memories
On the right side of the altar, Adle's photo in formal military dress rested between the U.S. and Marine Corps flags. To the left, a framed No. 4 orange high school football jersey stood as a poignant reminder of his high school days. David Cesky, athletic director at Fallston, who delivered the first of three eulogies, recalled a scrappy football player with more spirit, optimism and speed than heft.
"He would sprint down the field at full speed into a block of linemen who all weighed 100 pounds more than him," said Cesky. "He taught us well."
After one devastating loss, it was sophomore Adle, last out of the locker room, who tried to cheer up his coach.
"He told me, 'We did good,' with the best record ever," Cesky said. "Then, he said, 'I can't wait for next year.'"
Frank Taddeo Sr., who coached Adle in recreation leagues, called him a "110 percent team player. The truth of that is painfully obvious now." In what Taddeo called "a clear indication of his character," Adle volunteered for a second tour in Iraq so that those reservists with children could stay home.
"He has filled us all with such pride," Taddeo said. "He helped others, never backed down from a challenge and kept God in his life."
Helene McCullough, Adle's high school French teacher, shared a few of the letters written by him.
"He had a spark for life that drew everyone in," she said.
Homer also read a letter of thanks from Adle's parents, who wrote that their "hearts were broken but filled with so much pride."
The Marine Reserves and enrollment in Harford Community College were a compromise Adle made with his parents, who wanted the younger of their two sons to go to college. Adle, who had hoped to become a teacher and coach, drove an earthmover with a military engineering unit at Folsom in Ridley Township, in suburban Philadelphia. He was called to active duty after his first semester in college and served in Iraq for six months last year.
Adle visited Homer in February, shortly before leaving on his second deployment. He frequently e-mailed the pastor from Iraq, often reminding the Army chaplain about the superiority of the Marines.
Adle kept a cloth chaplain's cross, a gift from Homer, taped inside his helmet. He had promised to bring it home safely.
"That cross has not yet come back to us," said Homer before he gave Pam Adle-Watts a replica of it yesterday.
At the end of the service, two Marine officers slowly approached the altar and saluted the casket. As an honor guard of Marines escorted the casket from the church, the congregation sung "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Adle was "the true embodiment of the warrior spirit with a heart devoid of hatred for the adversary," Homer said.
Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday.