Beneath an ashen sky, a mournful rendition of taps poured from a Marine's bugle as family and friends bid farewell yesterday to a young rifleman from Baltimore County who died last week with 30 other servicemen when their helicopter crashed in Iraq.
Lance Cpl. Michael L. Starr Jr., 21, was buried with full military honors at Parkwood Cemetery in Parkville.
Mourners came from far and near to pay their last respects. One of Starr's former sergeants drove all night from North Carolina to attend the services. A contingent of city police officers served as an honor guard and brought Starr's family some symbols of one of his career dreams.
Krista Smith, 20, of Middle River brought a rose to place on the Marine's casket at the cemetery. She was Starr's first cousin, close to him since they were children.
"He loved his family and his friends," Smith said. "He cared for people outside of himself. He had a heart of gold."
Starr, who was from Edgemere, was with one of the lead combat teams that in November stormed the town of Fallujah, where he was wounded. With his tour in Iraq winding down, he had e-mailed loved ones that he wanted to join the Baltimore City Police Department when discharged.
But on Jan. 26 - a day described as the deadliest of the Iraq war for the U.S. military - Starr was killed when a Marine helicopter crashed near Ar Rutbah in western Iraq.
The service started at Duda-Ruck Funeral Home in Dundalk, where father Michael Starr Sr., mother Robin Starr of Marriottsville, stepmother Linda Starr and 22-year-old sister Jennifer Sagner were joined by a group of nearly 100.
"We are so thankful for everyone's love," Robin Starr said. Yesterday, she said, a stranger named Mary Darnell delivered to her a book of 166 e-mails sent to the Starr family by members of Marine Moms Online, a national support group for mothers of current or former Marines. "It was very moving, the messages," the mother said.
During the service, one old friend brought laughter to the crowd when he told of him and Starr, as youngsters, putting on girls' bathing suits and running down the middle of a north Baltimore street. Another eulogist said that Starr was in heaven wearing his dress blue uniform, only with wings sprouting from his back.
Other Marines were seated facing the closed casket draped with an American flag. Floral arrangements covered a wall.
1st Sgt. Gabriel Pintos of Camp Lejeune, N.C., said he drove through the night to attend Starr's funeral. He was the corporal's company first sergeant in Hawaii, before Iraq.
"He was a hard charger, a Marine through and through," said Pintos, a 22-year service veteran. "There are people who read about history and there are those who make it. ... Corporal Starr made it."
Heading an honor guard of city police officers attending the funeral was J. Charles "Carl" Gutberlet III, the department's chief of staff. He presented to Starr's loved ones an official departmental badge and a certificate as an honorary police officer.
In e-mails to family members, Starr wrote that he was proud of performing his risky job as a rifleman in the combat zone. He wrote of his small part in helping shape American history.
Starr wrote that he was thrilled to be "making a difference" for those Iraqis who wanted a form of democratic government.
Some among the mourners, clad in red blazers and weathered by their years, knew hardship and history intimately. As members of the Marine Corps League, they attended the service as part of the service's mantra, semper fidelis, meaning "always faithful."
"We're here for just those two words, semper fi," said Guy Hall, the league's Maryland sergeant-at-arms who fought in the Korean War.
"It's always sad for the family, always," Hall said. "This is my first Marine funeral this year. Last year there were six."