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Solemn services honor fallen Marine
Icy roads and prickling sheets of wind-blown sleet could not keep 200 mourners away from Calvary Baptist Church in Towamencin Township, where Brandon Van Parys, a Marine lance corporal killed in his third week at war, was memorialized Wednesday as an honorable servant of God and country.
The morning service at the Montgomery County church unfolded slowly, with mourners filling the pews as the strains of "Be Thou My Vision" played with aching tenderness on violin and piano.
A Marine honor guard wheeled Van Parys' flag-covered casket to the front of the spacious church, and the crowd watched silently as slides depicting the fallen warrior in the full bloom of life flashed across two giant screens.
Here was Brandon as a grinning toddler; as a boy of 8 or 9; as a high school graduate in cap and gown; as a Marine of 20, wearing the uniform he so ardently desired after the 9/11 terror attacks inspired an unquenchable patriot's fervor in his adolescent heart.
The memorial was the first of two services for the Northwestern Lehigh High School graduate, who died Feb. 5 when an insurgent's rocket-propelled grenade streaked across the Euphrates River in Iraq's Al Anbar province and exploded into his side, killing him instantly.
Van Parys was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, at Camp Lejeune, N.C. At the time of his death he had been in Iraq just 20 days, serving on his base commander's personal security detail.
Van Parys' mother, Catherine Hearn of Lower Frederick Township, sat with her husband, Gregory, and three children at the front of the church and received the folded American flag from his casket. As she left the church to watch the rifle squad salute and hear the sounding of taps, she touched a corner of the flag to her forehead. She wept.
The casket was loaded into a hearse and driven to Lynn Township, where Van Parys had lived with his father, stepmother and brothers before enlisting in the Marines in November 2005. The second memorial service was held at New Life Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Tripoli.
Interment was to take place today at Arlington National Cemetery, where Van Parys had once expressed a desire to be buried.
"He has now joined the Lord in heaven," Marine Capt. Tracy Burke told the mourners at Calvary Baptist. "However, his legacy of fortitude and faith remains with us."
Pastor Tim Jordan called Van Parys' death "a homegoing to heaven."
"To us, this is heartbreaking. To God, it is precious," he said, recalling the depiction of the heavenly kingdom from the Book of Revelations as a place of gold, light and glory.
Van Parys, who had studied law enforcement at the Lehigh Career Technical Institute and trained as a combat radio operator when he joined the Marines, was one of 25 U.S. service members killed during the week of Feb. 5. More than 3,100 troops have been killed since the war began in March 2003.