LONDON — Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas "T.J." Reilly Jr. was laid to rest on a springlike afternoon here Monday, while his friends and relatives struggled to contain their grief and the sound of taps echoed softly in the distance.
Reilly, who graduated from South Laurel High School a year and a half ago, had a flair for cooking and baking and was interested in a culinary career. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps hoping to gain leadership skills and build a better life.
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Reilly died Dec. 21 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the vehicle he was riding in while supporting combat operations in Iraq's Anbar Province. He was 19.
Reilly, who was born in Chicago, had been in Iraq since June, serving with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division.
The Rev. Joe Mobley, who led services at London Funeral Home, noted that Riley's life spanned just 19 years, five months and 23 days. But he said Reilly accomplished much in that brief time.
"He gave his life for the country he believed in," Mobley said. "We stand here broken-hearted ... but we stand here proud of what T.J. accomplished in his life."
Mobley, a former Marine, told those present to pause at every opportunity to remember and give thanks for Reilly and other men and women in uniform who sacrifice to protect America.
"Realize that it is his life that made it possible for you to live in the greatest nation the world has ever known," Mobley said.
The entire audience stood moments later when Steve House, who taught Reilly in high school, sang the Marines' Hymn.
House, who also is a former Marine, recalled Reilly as a "sweet kid" who gave everything for his country. He challenged those present to live up to the example Reilly set in defending freedom.
"Let us live this freedom," House said. "Let's live it for T.J. Let's live it for him, cherish freedom and hold the torch high."
Among the mourners was Susan Akins of Whitesburg, Tenn., whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Williams, served in Iraq with Reilly. She said her son was in the same convoy but in another vehicle when Reilly was killed.
"They were close friends, and now my son is really hurting because he lost T.J.," Akins said. "It's my understanding that the whole unit is suffering because T.J. was very popular and all those young men totally depended on one another."
Akins said she had heard that five other Marines in the same vehicle with Reilly suffered shrapnel wounds that did not appear to be life-threatening. But she said the incident shows that soldiers continue to suffer and sometimes die in Iraq even though conditions have dramatically improved.
Outside the funeral home about 30 representatives of two patriotic motorcycle groups, Task Force Omega and the Patriot Guard Riders, displayed American flags as informal honor guards. Overhead, a larger American flag flew from the top of a fire department aerial ladder truck.
Inside, the flag-draped coffin was watched over by Marines in full dress uniform, while a screen showed slides of Reilly's life, picturing him at birth, as a happy child, and as a brand new Marine.
Growing up, Reilly liked sports, including basketball, football, boxing and horseback riding. But his mother said that he had a softer side and liked nothing more than baking and decorating cakes. He had hoped to enter culinary school after his service in the Marines, she said.
After services at the funeral home Monday, Reilly was buried with full military honors at the nearby A.R. Dyche Memorial Park.
After the graveside services, Steve House said that Reilly first mentioned joining the Marines during his junior year in high school. House said he told Reilly that the Marines helped prepare young men for life, but also cautioned him "that there was a war on." Reilly ultimately decided to go ahead.
"He saw it as a way out," House said. "He was a sweet kid, very respectful, very well mannered, just an excellent young man.
"If he had not been my student, I would have been proud to call him my son."
Survivors include Reilly's mother, Georgina Bray of London; his grandfather, George Bray of Chicago; a brother, Kenneth Bray of Braidwood, Ill.; and a sister, Regina Reilly of Manchester.