Beside a casket draped in red, white and blue, they stood during the military funeral service in Fresno and remembered Cpl. Farrell Gilliam, the Marine, brother, son, friend -- just 25 -- whose life ended too soon.
Gilliam fought for his country during two deployments to Afghanistan, where he lost both legs from an explosive device's blast on Jan. 5, 2011.
But Gilliam was strong and against all odds, underwent more than 30 surgeries. His unexpected death on Jan. 9, associated with his combat injuries, devastated his family.
More than 300 people attended his service Tuesday at Temple Beth Israel in northwest Fresno, followed by a full military honors ceremony at Beth Israel Cemetery.
After a gun volley and bugle playing taps at the cemetery, his family gathered around a flock of white doves. With a prayer before Gilliam's body was lowered into the ground, they released the birds into the sky to tears and salutes.
During the morning service, a fellow Marine talked about his dear friend and how they used to read together -- fondly recalling Gilliam at the door with a "stack of books up to my face."
"He started teaching me a lot about opening my heart ... I was pretty angry," Marine Cpl. James McCain said, swallowing tears. "And he said, 'There's nothing to be angry about' -- him of all people. He could have been angry, but he was never angry. He was a sweet boy."
Gilliam was independent, able to do things like scuba dive and launch and recover his own kayak, said Marine Lt. Col. Richard Riley, commanding officer of Wounded Warrior Battalion East that Gilliam belonged to at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, Marine Corps Detachment in Texas. Gilliam lived at the center for more than two years as an active-duty Marine undergoing rehabilitation.
On Friday, his body was flown from Texas to Mineta San Jose International Airport, where an honorary motorcade accompanied his casket to a Fresno funeral home.
Gilliam grew up in Chico and later Ridgecrest with his father, Mike Gilliam, but often visited his mother, Lisa Gilliam, and other relatives in Fresno.
With confidence that his son was "doing right" before he died, Mike Gilliam addressed his son's casket: "I'm so proud to have known you."
Friend Natasha Martinez recalled a favorite memory: Gilliam drove himself, using special hand controls, to visit her in New Mexico last summer in his big pickup.
"He was just so well-adjusted, so sunny, so normal," Martinez said. "His attitude had completely made that wheelchair disappear. He was just Farrell. Not a wounded warrior. Not a man fighting for his life. Not a man mad at his circumstance -- just Farrell Ashton Gilliam. Kind, gentle and unexpectedly funny."
Gilliam's older brother Daniel Lorente described him as "vivacious and full of life," thoughtful, but also "teasing and playful."
Scott Skiles, a multiple trauma social work supervisor at VA Palo Alto, added to that:
Gilliam holds the hospital's "high-speed" record for taking a corner in a wheelchair, Skiles said playfully. The sometimes one-wheeled maneuvers, "no small feat," became aptly named the "Farrell turn."
Gilliam's photo will forever hang in the VA hospital, Skiles said.
Words can't describe the "depth of character, courage and goodness present in the life of Farrell," Skiles said. "What a fine, fine young man."
A tearful friend, Marine Lance Cpl. Gage Colson, couldn't bring himself to say much, but perhaps said it best of all: "I'm going to miss him a lot."
Lorente ended Tuesday's service with a message for his brother:
"Farrell, your courage and bravery set the bar, exemplifying how I want to lead and live my life. You've made such an impactful difference. We are forever changed, and forever thankful."
Service members with central San Joaquin Valley ties who were killed in or have died after suffering injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan:
Marine Cpl. Farrell Gilliam, 25, Fresno
Army Spc. Thomas J. Mayberry, 21, Citrus High School (Porterville) graduate who also attended Clovis schools
Army Pfc. Douglas J. Jeffries Jr., 20, Porterville High graduate from Springville
Marine Lance Cpl. Jared C. Verbeek, 22, Mt. Whitney High graduate, Visalia
Marine Sgt. Matthew Abbate, 26, attended Buchanan High and graduated from Sierra Charter School, Clovis
Army Cpl. Brett Land, 24, of Porterville
Army Staff Sgt. Brian Piercy, 27, Buchanan High graduate, Clovis
Army Pfc. Lukas Hopper, 20, Golden Valley High graduate, Merced
Marine Lance Cpl. Alfonso Ochoa Jr., 20, Hanford West High graduate, Hanford
Army Sgt. Joshua Soto, 25, Avenal High graduate
Army Sgt. Raul Moncada, 29, Madera High graduate
Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, 25, Golden Valley High graduate, Merced
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony L. Capra, 31, formerly of Hanford
Sgt. Timothy P. Martin, 27, of Pixley, Monache High graduate
Air Force Senior Airman Nick Eischen, 24, Buchanan High graduate, Clovis
Army Cpl. Nathan Hubbard, 21, Buchanan High graduate, Clovis
Marine Lance Cpl. Christian Vasquez, 20, Coalinga High graduate
Army Cpl. Victor H. Toledo Pulido, 22, of Hanford
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Moore, 28, Alpaugh High graduate
Army Sgt. Steven Packer, 23, Clovis High graduate
Army Pfc. Daniel Courneya, 19, formerly of Fresno, moved to Michigan at age 10
Army Cpl. Michael Rojas, 21, Clovis East High graduate
Army Pfc. Rowan D. Walter, 25, Buchanan High graduate, Clovis
Marine Cpl. Joshua Pickard, 20, Merced County native
Army Cpl. Cesar Granados, 21, Le Grand High graduate
Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony "Tony" Edward Butterfield, 19, Buchanan High graduate, Clovis
Army Spc. Manuel Joaquin Holguin, 21, Woodlake High graduate
Air Force Airman 1st Class Carl Jerome Ware Jr., 22, formerly of Dinuba
Marine Pfc. Javier Chavez, 19, Orosi High graduate, Cutler
Army Sgt. Regina C. Reali, 25, Fresno High graduate
Army Sgt. Adrian N. Orosco, 26, Corcoran High graduate
Marine Lance Cpl. John Anthony "JT" Lucente, 19, lived in Fresno until he was 14
Air Force Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Jacobson, 21, of Madera Ranchos
Marine Corps Sgt. Lindsey James, formerly of Corcoran
Marine Lance Cpl. Branden Paul Ramey, son of Randy Ramey of Madera Ranchos
Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard, 22, Buchanan High graduate, Clovis
Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Baro, 21, Buchanan High graduate, Clovis
Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy D. Bow, 20, Lemoore High graduate
Army Spc. Daniel Paul Unger, 19, Exeter High graduate
Marine Lance Cpl. Travis J. Layfield, 19, formerly of Atwater
Army Sgt. Michael W. Mitchell, 25, Monache High graduate formerly of Porterville
Army Pfc. Karina Lau, 20, Livingston High graduate
Army 1st Lt. Osbaldo Orozco, 26, Delano High graduate, Earlimart
Two more men with Valley ties were killed in 2005 during training in Kuwait:
Army Staff Sgt. Jose Carlos Rangel, 43, of Fresno
Army Capt. Joe Fenton Lusk II, 25, Reedley High graduate
Source: Fresno Bee staff librarians
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.