Her long blond hair and handful of tissues couldn’t hide the grief and pain in her face.
She held tight onto the neatly folded American flag that had been draped over the casket and cried as she walked away, leaving behind the body of Marine Staff Sgt. Donald C. May Jr.
The scent of gunpowder filled the air from the guns fired in a military salute as a bugler played the soulful strains of taps.
May, Virginia’s first Iraqi war fatality, was ready to be laid to rest at Dale Memorial Park in Chesterfield.
“He served his country well. We thank him for what he stood for as a Marine,” one man said during a joint prayer.
May was assigned to the 1st Marine Division’s 1st Tank Battalion. A tank commander, the 31-year-old Marine died last month when the tank he was riding in fell from a bridge over the Euphrates River.
His body was found inside his tank, which was flipped upside down in the water.
For a few hours Friday, many in the Chesterfield community stopped to think of May.
Firefighters and police officers parked their vehicles along the procession route.
Dressed in their uniforms, they stood at attention as May’s family drove by.
Earlier in the day, more than 100 people — family, friends, military comrades and local law enforcement personnel — filled St. Augustine Catholic Church.
They came to show their respect for May and to comfort Brenda May, who had lost her only child.
“She’s a member of our family,” said Gerold Evans, of the James Slay Detachment of the Marine Corps League of Richmond.
“All Marines are family.”
But May was more than just a Marine.
He was a son, a husband and a father — a handsome man with blond hair that even his mother envied.
He had two children — Mariah, 7, and Jack, 2 — and an unborn son.
Deborah May is more than seven months pregnant.
Donald — D.J. to his buddies — was also a best friend.
Shannon Bannister remembered his buddy yesterday during an emotional eulogy.
“As sad as this is,” Bannister said, “we can’t forget that D.J. was living his dream. He made it to the front lines. We lost a devoted soldier, a hero, an icon and a friend.”
The Rev. Msgr. Michael S.C. Schmied, pastor of St. Augustine, spoke knowingly of May.
May had been baptized, received his first communion, was confirmed and was married at St. Augustine.
“May symbolized ‘Semper Fi’ indeed. He was always faithful,” Schmied said. “He was always faithful to God. While it is not an easy task, we must let go.”
Meredith Fischer is a staff writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch