ARLINGTON, Va. -- On a sunny, windswept hillside where the cherry trees are budding, the Army gave a final salute yesterday to Maj. Marie Rossi.
Ten days after Major Rossi's big Chinook helicopter crashed onto a stormy desert half a world away, her husband kissed the folded flag that had covered the casket at Arlington National Cemetery.
"She was able to do a tough job without being a tough person," the Rossi family recalled in a prepared statement. "We will always remember Marie as the girl and woman who made us laugh."
The nation knew her as a pilot, widely interviewed on television after she led a helicopter squadron on a supply mission deep into Iraq on the opening day of the Desert Storm ground war.
That flight for the 24th Infantry Division had taken her as close to combat as any American woman has ever officially gone. Afterward, the 32-year-old pilot had downplayed any historical significance.
"I think if you talk to the women who are professionals in the military we see ourselves as soldiers," Major Rossi told CNN. "We don't really see it as man vs. woman. What I am doing is no greater or less than the man who is flying next to me or in back of me."
Indeed, three male crew members died with her when their helicopter hit an unlit microwave tower March 1.
She was one of six American women to die during Operation Desert Storm.