Family and friends of a fallen soldier from Plainfield received their loved one Tuesday morning.
After arriving at Midway Airport, a hero's procession led the body of Army Pfc. Andrew Meari through Plainfield and past the high school where he spent two years before graduating in Wisconsin.
"It's always important to acknowledge and remember the service and the dedication and, frankly, the sacrifice of those who choose to serve our country, but it's especially hard when it's a young person and when they're from your community," said Tom Hernandez, the Director of Community Relations at Plainfield South High School.
Meari, 21, was killed last week when his unit was attacked with a vehicle-borne explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. A soldier from Massachusetts was also killed, but several members of the unit were spared.
The Army assured Meari's family that his actions were heroic.
"They hardly had time to react," recalled Meari's uncle, Todd Williams. "They took the brunt, but it sounds like the other soldiers will make it."
Many of those who turned out for the procession said they didn't know Meari but wanted to acknowledge his sacrifice.
"He's my battle buddy so I'm going to go and pay my respects. I don't personally know him, but he's part of the military family and we've got our values and I'm here to support that," said Chuck Ghanayem.
Growing up, Meari loved music, his family and his friends.
"He was a well-spoken kid. He never wanted to cause drama. He was always just looking to have a good time. He never wanted trouble. He just loved hanging out with his friends. He would do anything for you, apparently, as you can see what happened. We're all going to miss him," said Andre Gharabadeh, Meari's friend for nearly 13 years.
A wake for Meari is scheduled for noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Fred C. Dames Funeral Home, at 3200 Black Road, in Joliet. Funeral services are planned for Thursday at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill.
Meari joined the army in 2008, and was based in Fort Campbell, Ky., according to the Patriot Guard Riders. He'd already received several military honors in his two years and had two more years of service -- and a future that could have held anything -- ahead of him.
He was a "young vibrant student. Now it's just a sad, sad loss for or community," said family friend Jan Carroll, who said the death in the conflict in Afghanistan was Plainfield's first.