Lance Cpl. James Bray Stack came home Thursday to Arlington Heights, and the community honored the fallen Marine with American flags and tears.
Schoolchildren stretched for blocks along the route of the motorcade through the village, joining the silent welcome. They included students from Christian Liberty Academy where the Marine's father, Robert Stack, teaches and his wife, Katie Stack, was a student as well as St. Peter Lutheran, Windsor Elementary, Thomas Middle and St. Viator High schools.
Christian Liberty was probably the site along the route where people took the loss of 20-year-old Stack most personally.
Mourners included Justin Lee of Morton Grove, who played soccer with James Stack; Donna Morrison, a teacher whose husband employed the young man part time; and 15-year-old Rachel Freeman, who is best friends with James Stack's sister, Megan, and who thought of him as her brother.
"I really, really appreciate that they're having everyone come out and stuff," said Freeman. "When you think of a brother and sister, you think of people fighting, but that's not the way it was with James. He was the best big brother you could think of. He would talk to you and give you advice.
"He was everything a dad and a brother and a husband and a soldier."
James Stack was home-schooled with a Christian Liberty curriculum but played on the school's teams. He excelled on the track team, where he met his wife.
Kevin Strack, who grew up as James Stack's neighbor and best friend and joined the Marines a few months after Stack did, expressed his appreciation after the cavalcade.
"I thought it was outstanding and amazing that all these people who have nothing to do with the military came out to honor him. This hit close to home for almost everybody," Strack said.
The plane carrying Stack's body flew into Chicago Executive Airport about 10 a.m. Thursday and pulled into Hangar 19, where his family was waiting along with the motorcycle groups Warrior Watch Riders and Patriot Guard, who regularly pay homage to returning military personnel.
A Marine honor guard transferred the body from the plane to a hearse for the trip to Glueckert Funeral Home in Arlington Heights.
There was no ceremony, but James' wife, Katie Stack, hugged their friend Lance Cpl. Ryan Madura of Camp Pendleton in California, who escorted the body. She then looked in the back window of the hearse and touched the side of the vehicle before returning to the embrace of her family and friends.
As the motorcade drove through the village, U.S. flags flew at half-staff at government buildings and were seen in front of homes. The procession included Arlington Heights police cars and a fire truck, at least 50 motorcycles from the veterans groups, and Illinois State Police. Family members had the windows down in their limousines and shot pictures of the tribute.
The motorcade purposely drove past the Arlington Heights American Legion post near Recreation Park at Douglas Avenue and Miner Street, where Katie and James Stack held their wedding reception in 2009.
Norma Golden, 79, a Legion Auxiliary member who spent about three years sending packages to military men and women stationed in Afghanistan, said she hasn't quit crying since she heard about the death of Stack, who was killed Nov. 10 in Afghanistan only a month into his first tour of duty.
When he enlisted in the Marines, members of the Morton Grove American Legion Post recruited him to also join their ranks. They will see that his 1-year-old daughter, Mikayla, gets money for her college education, said Ken Trumbull of Post 134, who is a former national executive committeeman of the veterans organization.
Veterans came to show "honor and respect for his family for the service he has given us in paying the ultimate price," said Joe Jesicki, a member of the Morton Grove group.
Loren Helwink, a member of the Mount Prospect post, repeated something he had heard and found fitting: "This young lad wrote a check to the U.S. government with the amount left blank, including his life. No one else can claim that except a veteran."
Greg Padovani, chairman of the Drive to Revive Memorial Park in Arlington Heights, organized the tribute for the trip through the village.
"It seems like we all came together as a community today," he said. "We have a very profound feeling of thanks for James' sacrifice and support for his family and the U.S. Marine Corps. I saw many faces in the motorcade with tears in their eyes. It left us all speechless."
Visitation for the fallen Marine is scheduled to take place from 2 to 9 p.m. today at Glueckert Funeral Home, 1520 N. Arlington Heights Road.
The funeral service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Prospect High School, 801 W. Kensington Road in Mount Prospect. He will be buried at Memory Gardens Cemetery, 2501 E. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made in Stack's memory at marineparentsinc.com/stack.asp to benefit Marine Parents Outreach Programs in support of injured Marines and Corpsmen.