Sgt. Bradley Atwell laid to rest with full military honors
Kokomo, Ind. — The sharp crack of rifle shots and the smell of gunpowder rolled through Albright Cemetery Saturday afternoon, followed by the sad, slow sound of a solitary trumpet playing taps.
Then silence, punctuated by sobs, as the large crowd composed of family, friends, military personnel, veterans and community members stood beneath a bright autumn sky and paid their final respects to Sgt. Bradley Atwell, a U.S. Marine and Kokomo native killed Sept. 15 in Afghanistan.
“The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want,” read Pastor Steve Cole from Psalm 21, as Marines conducting full military honors at Atwell’s burial stood in rigid attention beside the casket and throughout the cemetery. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
As a gentle breeze billowed the dozens of large American flags held by community members lined up behind the crowd, two Marines lifted and meticulously folded the flag lain across the casket. Three Marines then knelt before the family and presented them with folded U.S. flags.
It was the concluding ceremony of Atwell’s funeral service, which began at 11 a.m. Saturday inside Chapel Hill Christian Church.
During the service, friends, family and fellow Marines addressed the nearly-packed sanctuary, remembering both the big and little incidents they said made the 2003 Taylor High School graduate a truly unique person and Marine Sergent.
Staff Sgt. Jimbo Montemayor, who served for a time as Atwell’s superior, said the incident which made him a hero was his actions on the day he was killed in Afghanistan, when around 15 insurgents dressed in U.S. Army uniforms infiltrated Camp Bastion with automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests.
“Sgt. Atwell, at the sound of enemy fire, ran and beat down doors screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘Grab your gear, Marines, and let’s go,’” Montemayor said. “He ran towards enemy fire to engage the enemy, as any well-trained sergeant should.
“I’ve seen that intensity numerous times when he was in training,” he continued. “I can almost guarantee that he pursued the enemy without any fear of losing his life. These are the actions of a true hero.”
According to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, insurgents attacked aircrafts parked on the flight line and inside aircraft hangars, destroying six jets and significantly damaging two more. Three refueling stations were also destroyed.
“Bradley epitomized the Marine Corps ethos of the honor, courage and commitment,” wrote Lt. Col. P.D. Waugh in a letter to the family, which was read at the service. “He lived it everyday in the way he looked out for his Marines. You can be sure the Marines who worked and fought beside him will never forget the dedication and sacrifice that he made.”
But there were also lighter moments during the 90-minute service, like when Atwell’s wife, Danielle, recalled her husband’s “crazy sense of humor.”
“I’d like to share all the funny memories I have of Brad, but to be honest, most of them are inappropriate,” she said to the laughter of the crowd.
“I’m going to miss the fact that I’ll never get to find his dirty socks hidden in my couch anymore. Few men would go through so much to leave his dirty socks in the living room, when putting them in the clothes hamper would’ve been so much easier,” she said with a smile.
Derek Brading, a close friend from high school, said Atwell was a notorious prankster, adding with a laugh that Atwell named the first truck he bought in high school “Big Bertha Shirley.”
On Sept. 11, he said Atwell attached an American flag to the top of the truck and drove around town blaring country music, yelling “We’re going to get the people who did this.”
“I want to thank the family for not only giving me a best friend, but for giving all of us a hero,” Brading said.
After the funeral service, a miles-long string of cars drove from Chapel Hill Church to Albright Cemetery. All along the 3-mile route, crowds lined the road waving flags or standing at attention with hands over their hearts. As the procession crossed U.S. 31, some drivers, who were stopped in front of a police blockade, got out of their cars and saluted.
“We know that all the words spoken today won’t bring Bradley back to us,” Pastor Cole said. “But we pray these words will bring comfort to his family and friends, and all those who gathered in his honor.”
And although the words spoken Saturday didn’t bring Atwell back, Marine Ryan Braithwaite said he will continue to live in the memories of all those he loved and everyone he met.
“Every Marine in this chapel would be honored to fight beside a Marine like you,” he said. “Brad, you’re a true American hero on every account. Your unwavering example, dedication and motivation will live in Marine Corps lore for all eternity.”