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thedrifter
01-17-06, 08:06 AM
FUNERAL FOR LOCAL MARINE
A fighter's farewell
Emotions run high and memories are vivid when a fallen Marine is memorialized.
BY JIM HODGES
jhodges@daily press.com 247-4633
January 17, 2006

POQUOSON -- Mark Slatton goes home to Northern Virginia today as part of a caravan that will include the flag-draped casket of Pfc. Kyle Brown.

Slatton, a sergeant first class stationed at Quantico, began his mission Friday when he accompanied Brown's body from Dover, Del., to his family in Poquoson.

"My job is to make sure that everything is done just right," said Slatton, who read Brown's obituary during a 35-minute funeral service Monday. "It's a volunteer detail. A lot of people won't volunteer, but these kids don't volunteer to be killed."

Brown died when he was shot by a sniper on Jan. 7 in Fallujah, Iraq.

In front of a congregation of about 150 people, his casket was flanked by the flags of the United States and the Marine Corps. Brown's boot camp portrait, with the stern look so many adopt after coming out of Parris Island, was on an easel alongside.

"Freedom isn't free, and Kyle paid for it with his life," Katheryn Brown told an assembly that included U.S. Rep. Robert "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News. Katheryn Brown is a cancer patient and was recovering from surgery when she learned her grandson had been killed.

As the service ended, she collapsed, sobbing on the front row of the church, overcome with grief while "God Bless America" was being sung. Brown's father, Rodney Bridges, consoled his mother, helping her down the aisle in exiting the church.

"I've learned three things," said Lt. Cmdr. David Cromer, from the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, during his eulogy. "His family loved Kyle. Kyle loved his family. And the family loved the Marine Corps because Kyle loved the Marine Corps."

Listening, Penny Kowalchick of Chesapeake nodded. Her son, Joe, served with Brown during both of their tours in Iraq and one deployment in Afghanistan.

"They've been together since boot camp," she said. "When they were home, my husband and I and Rodney and (Carolyn Byrd, Bridges' fiancee) took the boys to Busch Gardens together."

"When Kyle was killed, Joseph was about 1,200 yards away," she said. "He called me that Sunday and told me."

On Thursday, he sent an e-mail.

"He told me he wasn't sleeping, that he couldn't stop thinking about Kyle," she said.

"I called Rodney and gave him Joseph's number. They talked, and then Joe e-mailed me back that it was difficult."

Bridges told Kowalchick by telephone that he had to concentrate on his job because "we don't want any more body bags here."

On Sunday, Penny Kowalchick saw a Web camera picture of her son.

"I know that Rodney helped," Penny Kowalchick said. "Joseph looked rested. He looked like he felt better."

Joe Kowalchick is 22 today, and part of his birthday will be spent in a memorial service in Fallujah, where Marines will line up in front of a rifle and boots to pay their respects to Brown.

"He's due home in April. He's getting out in June," his mother said, relief plain in her voice.

Also in the church Monday, Ingrid Slonsky was having difficulty. She taught Brown government during his senior year at Heritage High School and described him as quiet, almost shy.

"When he got back from boot camp, it was like a man came back," she said. "He was confident. It was a completely different Kyle."

Heritage is hanging a picture of Brown and a plaque about him on an honor wall.

For nine days now, stories of Brown's youth have been traded among family and friends. Of his going to his first rock concert.

Of his first car, with flames painted on the side, and later his motorcycle.

Of his love for computer games.

"He loved candy, especially Sweet Tarts," 12-year-old Daine Brown said of his brother.

Daine will miss class today to ride with the family to Arlington National Cemetery, where Brown will be buried with full military honors.

The flag that has been draped over the casket will be folded and presented to Brown's mother, Theresa St. Pierre, who is in Virginia from her home in Oregon because of her son's death.

A second flag will go over the casket. It will be folded and given to Bridges.

Taps will sound.

"It will be hard," Bridges said. "Everything about this has been hard."

And then Slatton will drive to his office in Quantico to deal with paperwork.

"As soon as he's laid to rest, my mission is fulfilled," Slatton said.

Until the next time. Volunteering is his way of serving in a war he can't fight because of a spinal injury three years ago.

It's also his way of keeping in touch with old friends.

"My first unit out of boot camp was the same unit Pfc. Brown served in," Slatton said of the Second Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

"Being in the Marine Corps so long, I know a lot of first sergeants and a lot of company commanders. When I escort someone from their commands, I send them an e-mail to let them know."

Ellie