HAGERSTOWN - On a sunlit Washington County hillside, with a 21-gun salute, Seaman Craig B. Wibberley was laid to rest yesterday, nine days after he and 16 other crew members were killed in a terrorist attack on a Navy destroyer refueling in a Yemen harbor.
Hundreds of residents of Hagerstown and surrounding communities turned out along a 10-mile route to pay their respects as a hearse bore the flag-draped coffin of Wibberley, 19, from a Hagerstown church through cornfields and subdivisions to the cemetery south of the city.
They stood in somber silence, waving American flags or holding their hands over their hearts. Some veterans donned uniforms for the occasion. Entire families stood at attention as the procession went past.
A few people displayed hand-made signs to Wibberley's parents, Thomas and Patricia, and his sister, Toni: "Our Prayers Are with You" and "God Bless Craig."
In the noon service at St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Hagerstown, the family's pastor, the Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt, paid eloquent tribute to a young man who seemed to have found purpose in his naval service. A month ago, she said, she got his e-mail address and sent him a message. Surprised and grateful for the query, he replied that his ship was headed to dangerous territory in the Middle East and asked her to send a few Bible verses, she said.
"He said that although he loved what he was doing, he wanted something to keep him sane," Weatherholt said. She sent him several passages of Scripture, including an excerpt from St. Paul's first letter to Timothy that was read at the service.
"The world can be a very insane place," she said, noting that the terrorist attack on the USS Cole and the current strife in Israel is a continuation of violence in the Middle East that began in Biblical times. She added that during the Civil War, soldiers who fought at Antietam a few miles away lay dying in the cemetery at St. Mark's Episcopal Church where Wibberley was buried.
Weatherholt said there is "a force greater than the power of evil that breeds the kind of insanity we've seen in recent events." She noted the outpouring of support for Wibberley's family, declaring, "The blast was a blast of hatred. But God has turned it for us into a wave of love."
The funeral was attended by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and several high-ranking officers of the Navy and other military branches, as well as Mike Roy of nearby Keedysville, father of Patrick Roy, another sailor killed in the explosion.
But most of the crowd of more than 500 that filled the sanctuary and overflowed into an adjoining room were friends and neighbors of the family and former classmates of Craig Wibberley's at Williamsport High School and Washington County Technical High School.
Arnold Hammann, principal of Washington County Technical High School, described a student who came alive when discussing fly-fishing and found academic purpose when he began an advanced computer applications class his senior year.
Entranced, he bugged his parents until they bought a computer, then brought it to school to get the advice of his teacher, Norman McGaughey. Hammann read a letter from McGaughey that called Wibberley "the ultimate overachiever" and said every e-mail the sailor had sent from the Cole expressed "excitement and enthusiasm about the Navy."
"He truly had a plan," Hammann said. "He developed a thirst for knowledge in everything he did. As an educator, I can tell you: It doesn't get much better than that."
Outside St. John's Church, George Herr, a gray-bearded truck mechanic and friend of Wibberley's father, remembered Craig Wibberley as a "sweet little guy" who grew into a "very respectful" young man. Herr said the funeral had rekindled painful memories of his service with the Marines in Vietnam.
"I don't think it's fair," he said, choking up. "Why do we have terrorism and war? Why?"
Jean Reinmuth, 18, who graduated from Williamsport in June, found herself moved by the turnout of residents along the Sharpsburg Pike.
"All those people out there with their flags - that's what really got to me. It has really hit this place hard," she said.
Patrick Roy's family said yesterday they expect his body to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware today. They said they would plan his funeral in the next few days.