U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Adam J. Strain came home Saturday to Nevada County, honored on the same football field where he helped create memories as a Nevada Union football player.
Ten days after he was killed by small-arms fire in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, Adam Strain was remembered as a hero, his remains tucked inside an oak coffin draped with the Stars and Stripes.
Under powder-blue skies sprinkled with clouds, hundreds of strangers and friends sat on the home side of Hooper Stadium to honor a 20-year-old man whose impassioned plea to help the United States after the terrorist attacks nearly four years ago ended in the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Outside the stadium, dozens of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Grass Valley Police and California Highway Patrol officers in their dress uniforms and members of the U.S. Marine Corps in dress blues stood as sentries, guarding the path of the funeral procession with large American flags along Ridge Road.
Cars drove with their headlights on, carrying tributes to Adam Strain, who knew at 15 that he wanted to help a nation at war, his father, Rob Strain, said.
There were cars painted with "RIP My Friend" and "Miss U Always" scrawled on the windows. One man in a red Honda, caught up in the funeral procession past the Don Baggett Theatre, casually extended two fingers in the air, proclaiming peace and victory for Adam Strain, his family, and a community scarred by the first local death in the 21Ú2 years since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Ken Unruh said he never knew Strain but felt compelled to join the procession along Ridge Road to support his son in the Boy Scouts.
"It's out of respect for him that we're here," he said. "I feel supportive, and I feel this shows a community supportive of a young man who was willing to sacrifice for us."
Inside the stadium, the strains of the Grass Valley Male Voice Choir singing "The Marines Hymn" soared above the din of those shuffling in to pay their respects.
You didn't have to know Adam Strain to dress in your best and sit in the bleachers at Hooper Stadium, where as a defensive end, the 2003 graduate provided moments of Miner Magic for the fans sitting on the home side of the old football stadium.
You didn't have to know Adam Strain, but it was as if the entire community learned who he was during a week of sorrow and tribute to a young man who arrived in Nevada County in seventh grade at Ready Springs School and quickly established a reputation as a hard-nosed yet gentle soul, said friends who grew up with him.
"He died doing exactly what he wanted to do," said Tim Maier, 19, who befriended Adam Strain during their freshman year at Nevada Union. "I don't think there's a more noble thing to do than what he did, serving his country."
Adam Strain's sacrifice was rewarded Saturday when 1st Sgt. Christopher Schlemmer of the Marines' Sacramento-based Motor Transport Maintenance Company presented a posthumous Purple Heart to Rob and Karen Strain during ceremonies on the football field.
Later, the Marines fired three rifle shots marking Adam Strain's passing, followed by a bugler play "Taps."
Grass Valley California Highway Patrol Lt. Charles Whitmore presented the Strain family with a state flag.
"He deserved every bit of this," Steve Tomsic, Adam's brother, said later at a reception at the Grass Valley Elks Lodge.
The boy who became a soldier served as an inspiration, said Nevada Union head football coach Dave Humphers, who delivered the eulogy.
"We're here today to remember and honor Adam. This is his day," said Humphers, who relayed stories of Adam's toughness as a Little League baseball player and later as a member of the Miners football team.
"He was our boy," Humphers said as friends and acquaintances in the stands removed sunglasses to dab tears from their eyes.
Adam's parents, who moved from Smartville in Yuba County to North Hero, Vt., over the summer to be close to relatives, sat in folding chairs at the foot of the bleachers. Adam's fianceé, Barbara Wycliffe of Penn Valley, sat nearby.
Humphers told the crowd how Adam Strain, with his good looks and eager spirit, desired to be an actor, how he'd shot commercials for The Gap and tried out for the "Dawson's Creek" television series.
Once, when he was struggling in school, Humphers said, his mother asked how Adam was doing.
"Real good, Mom," Humphers said Adam told her. "I'm on a roll."
What he never told her, Humphers said, was that it was the honor roll.
"He wasn't ever comfortable talking about his successes," Humphers said.
When Adam asked Barbara to marry him, he asked Barbara's mother for permission, Humphers said. "He was always honorable, respectful of people."
When Adam went to Iraq, he'd make sure to pass out the goodies from his care packages to his troop members and Iraqi children first. "No go home," Humphers said the local children would say to Adam because of his generosity.
Adam Strain's death, Humphers said, makes him cherish his own freedom.
"I so much know that for the rest of my life, the Fourth of July will be different," said Humphers.
As a tribute, Humphers said that Strain's blue and gold No. 88 jersey would be retired.
"He and others who have given the ultimate sacrifice ... are true heroes in our time," said Navy Chaplain Kevin Deeley of Adam Strain, who served in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division.
"Let us appreciate the life that God has given us and embrace it with all our strength and will."
At the Grass Valley Elks Lodge, photos of Adam Strain, his family and his fianceé, Barbara, lined two walls inside the hall. "Adam was well-loved here," one note to the Strain family read. "You two are lucky to have a son like him. Just remember he is always looking down on you."
Rob Strain, who attended a memorial service last week in Vermont for the family, said he was heartened by tributes that have poured in from around the world for his son.
"It doesn't get any easier the second time around," he said outside the Elks Lodge.
Rob Strain said he was perhaps most proud of the fact that his son stuck to his wish of going over and helping win America's war, nearly two years after the terrorist attacks.
"It's like him and his buddies said, 'We're going.' I really wasn't aware of how strong his feelings were at the time," Rob Strain said.
Asked what Adam would say if he could see the spectacle Saturday, Rob Strain chuckled.
"You know what he'd say right now? He'd say, 'Right on.' He kind of liked being in the spotlight."
Adam Strain was due to return from Iraq next month and marry Barbara in June, his father said.
He won't ever get that chance now, but friends and strangers made certain Saturday that no one would ever forget the sacrifice Adam Strain made.
As they dined on finger foods and shared hugs, tears and memories at the Elks Lodge, an older gentleman took the microphone and proffered a tribute to a man he never knew.
"If you see a young man in uniform up in Heaven, the man said, "bless him for service to our country."
To contact staff writer David Mirhadi, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4229.
Here's a list of the groups that participated in Adam Strain's memorial Saturday:
Boy Scouts of America
Marine Corps League, Gold Country Detachment 885
United States Marine Corps Motor Transport Maintenance Company, Sacramento
Grass Valley Police Department
California Highway Patrol, Grass Valley office
Nevada County Sheriff's Office
Friends of Nevada County Military
Hooper and Weaver Mortuary
Grass Valley Elks Lodge 538
Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 535
Grass Valley Male Voice Choir