Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cody Grater laid to rest

SPRING HILL - The hollow sound of a bagpipe. Her son's flag-draped coffin. A solo baritone rendition of America the Beautiful.

Anita Lewis made it this far - about halfway - through the funeral before grief overwhelmed her. Head in hands, she began to sob. The sounds echoed off the walls of the cavernous Spring Hill Baptist Church.

For good reason, equanimity was lost. Arm's length away rested the gray casket of her son, Army Pfc. Cody Clark Grater, killed in action July 29 in Iraq.

Family, friends and complete strangers gathered Saturday to celebrate the life of the 20-year-old they hailed as "a true American hero."

"I know heaven needed a hero and they chose you," family friend Iris Doscher-Miller told the crowded church.

Rev. Pete Garbacki said Grater is in a better place now. "Cody gave his life for his friends but also for people he didn't know, for his country," he said. "There is no war where he is now."

Grater was at the halfway point of his 14-month tour of duty when he died. A little more than a week earlier, he had been home on leave.

He drove trucks for the 407th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division based out of Fort Bragg, N.C. He died when a rocket-propelled grenade hit near his outpost in the Adhamiyah District of Baghdad. Posthumously, he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

During the service, a photo slide show, set to music, lit up the walls behind the pulpit. It gave mourners a glimpse of Grater before he became a soldier: the kid with the big smile who rode bikes in the neighborhood and the big brother who would hug his little sister tight.

Neighbor Donna Fairclough, who babysat "Little Cody" for years, said seeing the pictures was tough. "I remember every one of them," she said with bleary eyes after the service.

In the eulogy, the Rev. LaVaugh McNary reminded those close to Grater that life continues after death.

But death did stop life -- at least for a moment -- as the miles-long procession wound through Hernando County after the service.

Motorists stopped at intersections as the caravan passed. A platoon of nearly 200 motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders led the way. And hundreds lined the route to the Florida National Cemetery in a celebration that rivaled a Fourth of July parade.

They held signs that read, "God Bless You" and "Freedom Does Not Come Free," as they waved American flags.

"We're here to honor Cody," said Richard Bartlett, who stood on top of his truck with his wife, Janna, near the intersection of State Road 50 and Interstate 75. "We didn't know him, but he's from my county. He died for all of us."

In the humid, stagnant air at the cemetery, sweat soaked men's dress shirts and women's necks. Summer thunder rumbled in the background, as soldiers fired a 21-gun salute that made adults jump and children cry. When servicemen folded the flag on Grater's coffin, sobs from the crowd grew louder with each tuck of the triangle.

Brig. Gen. John F. Mulholland from MacDill Air Force Base bent on one knee to give Lewis the flag. He said a few words too quiet to hear before she took the flag and clutched it as if it were her son.

The breeze from the oncoming storm whipped flags crisp as the pallbearers carried the casket down the crushed seashell sidewalk to the grave site. As they lowered the coffin into the ground, Grater's mother moaned "Nooooo" and her legs lost power. She lay on the thick grass for a while as the reverend began an a cappella Amazing Grace with help from the crowd.

Grater's cousins, Airman 1st Class Kevin Lewis and Army Spc. Ed Lewis, remained stoic pallbearers throughout the ceremony until then. With tears streaming down their faces, they broke ranks and went to console their relatives. It was done.

As they walked away, a few looked back to see the message on Grater's headstone: "He lived with honor."

From the St. Petersberg Times

Related Link:
Cody Grater remembered

Related Link:
Cody C. Grater dies 'of wounds suffered from enemy direct fire'