HIGHLAND, IL (KTVI) - Not every one of Highland`s 9,891 residents lined up Wednesday morning outside St. Paul`s Catholic Church for the funeral of a fallen Marine, but it sure looked like it.
Even kids from the nearby grade school stepped out to pay their respects to Marine Corporal Aaron Ripperda.
"Highland is an unbelievable family," said resident Sonya Webb. "Just because you are not related by blood does not mean we are not family."
But many in the crowd were not even from Highland.
"I am here to support him and his family and what he has done for America," said St. Peters, Missouri resident Kara Balassi.
Military families have been flooding social media. The consensus is that this death really stings since it didn't happen in combat overseas. It happened on the safety of U.S. soil.
Corporal Ripperda was only 26 years old. But, he was already a decorated war hero, after being deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. He died with six other Marines on the night of March 18, 2013 at the Hawthorne Army Depot outside of Reno, Nevada. The Defense Department said several servicemen were training with a 60-mm mortar round, when it exploded in the mortar tube. Eight other servicemen, including a Navy corpsman were hurt. Only one Marine suffered minor injuries. The others were seriously hurt.
"It doesn`t matter how well you know them, it`s somebody`s huge loss,'" said Patriot Guard Ride Captain Larry Talbert. "Even if it is just a training thing, they are training to help protect us."
In his five years of service, Ripperda visited 13 countries, including a tour in Afghanistan.
A friend from Ripperda`s unit told mourners whenever any of their fellow Marines were having a bad day, a visit with Ripperda would make 'the sunshine brighter and the air seem clearer.'
Family members know the feeling.
"He was funny, but he was very conscious of other people," said Ripperda`s cousin Linda Clark. "He was a really a good guy."
Ripperda`s compass pointed him in many directions. He first studied to be a museum curator, and then a chef.
He thought joining the Marines might help him become more focused and it did. When got out, he planned to get a degree in business.
At the time of his death, he only had six weeks of service left to go.
"I talked to him in October and he said he would be moving back to Illinois soon," said friend Michelle Frye. "Unfortunately, this is not the way I was picturing him coming back home."
The Westboro Baptist Church announced they would picket at the funeral. They would protest what they call, “a nation of sodomites and hypocrites”.
Investigators are still looking for the cause of the explosion.
Corporal Aaron Ripperda's arrangements:
Wednesday March 3, 2013 10 a.m.
St. Paul Catholic Church
1412 9th Street Highland, Illinois.
St. Mary Catholic Cemetery
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