CHICAGO - AUG. 5, 2005 - The final farewell for a young soldier in Northwest Indiana mixed a respectful funeral with a protest by a Baptist church group from Kansas.
Spc. Adam Harding was laid to rest in Portage, Ind.
His family and dozens of friends and neighbors attended the service, but they were interrupted by a Baptist group who traveled from Kansas to protest the ceremony.
NBC5's Phil Rogers said that he was, in fact, reporting two stories: one of a young American killed in the line of duty, and another of that man's memorial service colliding with a church.
To the dozens gathered to pay their last respects Friday, Adam Harding was hailed as the best America can offer.
"Spc. Harding was first, foremost, and always a soldier," a military spokesman said at the funeral.
He died July 25, when his convoy encountered a roadside bomb.
His friend Dustin Dunkle, also serving in Iraq, knows it could have been him.
I don't know what it's going to be like going back without him," Dunkle said, "with him not being there."
And across the street from the solemn service, a message of horror and hate unfolded as mourners gathered.
"If God loves this country, can he not curse this country?" shouted Jonathan Phelps, spokesman for the Westboro Baptist Church group, consisting Friday of about 10 picketers.
The group's Web site hails the London bombings and states that the group wishes that the explosions could have been worse. They specialize in crashing the funerals of American soldiers.
"God is their terrorist," Phelps said. "They've turned the country over to the fags. They're coming home in body bags."
The group contends that dead soldiers are God's revenge for America's tolerance of homosexuality.
"Hasn't this family suffered enough without you showing up at the funeral of their dead son?" Rogers asked Phelps.
"This is not about them grieving. This is about them beating their chest in pride about this filthy United States of America," Phelps replied.
All of Portage seemed to differ in their opinion of Friday's ceremony.
Harding was hailed as his hometown's hero and the town was festooned with American flags.
He was presented on Friday with the Army's Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
As is tradition, the soldier's grieving parents were presented with the flag of a grateful nation as hundreds turned out to prove the protesters wrong.
"I don't agree with it," one woman said, holding up the top of a cooler on which she had written, "My God Loves Everyone."
"I'm Baptist," she said, "and I don't agree with it."
The Kansas group likes to quote scripture to justify their message, Rogers said.
"Interestingly," he said, "they never made a reference to Mark 12: 30-31: You should love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and mind, and you should love your neighbor as yourself."