American flags lined the entrances to Glueckert Funeral Home in Arlington Heights Friday, waving in the hundreds of mourners who came to honor fallen Arlington Heights Marine, Lance Cpl. James Bray Stack.
Visitation was held Friday for the 20-year-old who was killed Nov. 10 in Afghanistan, only a month into his first tour of duty. A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday morning at Prospect High School.
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Fred Vukadinovic, senior ride captain for the Patriot Guard Riders, was standing vigil Friday along with fellow veterans at Stack's wake. He said it gets harder for him with each fallen soldier he accompanies home.
"It takes a little bit of your soul every time," said the Vietnam War veteran from Mount Prospect.
Lines of people patiently made their way to view the closed casket in which Stack will be buried today. Picture boards set up inside the funeral home told the story of a life lived to its fullest, albeit cut short.
Vukadinovic said he used to add a "Mission Accomplished" pin to his vest for each soldier he brought home. But there got to be so many that it started to weigh on him, "in more places than one," he said.
"I've been doing this for four years. I honestly have stopped counting," Vukadinovic said. "I see what the families go through and I see how their hearts ache for their son. And I see how appreciative they are to us who come out and stand to do this."
Friends, former classmates, neighbors, and strangers from as far away as Kenosha, Wis., to Sandwich, Ill., came Friday.
Christine Wienke of Woodstock, who has a 20-year-old son serving in the Air Force, said she wanted to show support for the family and recognize the sacrifices Stack made.
Wienke and other Patriot Guard volunteers stood outside the funeral home for hours in the cold holding up American flags.
"I'm grateful for the people who are willing to serve," Wienke said. "I think it's a terrible loss. They can be proud their son is a hero. We are all proud to be Americans. Some things are worth fighting for."
The entire Arlington Heights community is grieving Stack's loss, said Mayor Arlene Mulder, stopping to speak after she paid her respects to the family.
"The strength that they are showing and their pride ... (even with) their disappointment over the loss of their son, their patriotism is remarkable," Mulder said.
"I hope that the community can continue to support her (Stack's wife, Katie) as they have in the last few days. It shows how we are all one family. He gave his life for the rest of us. How can we complain about anything?"
Arlington Heights residents, veterans, schoolchildren, business owners and others lined the village streets Thursday as a motorcade with Stack's body wound slowly toward Glueckert's from Chicago Executive Airport.
The procession, which included Arlington Heights police cars, a fire truck, roughly 50 motorcycles from the Warrior Watch Riders and Patriot Guard, veterans groups, and Illinois State Police, traveled the streets of the village where a silent crowd of teary-eyed spectators and American flags gave stack a hero's welcome.
When Stack enlisted in the Marines, members of the Morton Grove American Legion Post recruited him as well. In two years, he became a star of the post's gun club, winning the national and state champions for air rifle shooting.
"It's a very sad day," said post member Casey Bachara of Morton Grove, who didn't know Stack personally but was compelled to come Friday.
Post members said they would see to it that Stack's 1-year-old daughter, Mikayla, gets money for her college education through the American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund.
Roughly 1,500 people are expected at Stack's funeral service, which begins at 11 a.m. today at Prospect High School, 801 W. Kensington Road in Mount Prospect.
Stack will be buried at Memory Gardens Cemetery, 2501 E. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made at marineparentsinc.com/stack.asp to benefit Marine Parents Outreach Programs in support of injured Marines and Corpsmen.