Despite the flags, bagpipes, motorcycle guard, officials and crowd that came to honor Marine Lance Cpl. James Stack Saturday, the service was really about family.
In his 20 years, James Stack became part of several families: his birth family, the family he created with his wife, Katie, their church families and their Marine family.
About 2,000 people, including 50 Marines, came to Prospect High School Saturday for a service for the Arlington Heights resident who was shot on Nov. 10 in battle in Afghanistan.
Friends of 19-year-old Katie Stack, including wives and girlfriends of Marines who served with her husband, never left her side, while her mother, Dawn Hedrick, was nearby watching the couple's year-old daughter, Mikayla.
As Katie's pastor, Rev. Peter McQueen of St. John United Church of Christ in Palatine said it was Katie and Mikayla he was concerned about.
But first McQueen told the story of how he met James Stack two years ago. He called Katie's family to say a snowstorm was keeping him from church, and Katie said "Let me call James." The next thing McQueen knew, James was in front of his house in a pickup truck, and they got to church.
Family and friends witnessed a "two-year window of love for Katie and James," noted the pastor.
And now people at the service need to be "Like the Marines no one left behind. The hard part of any tragedy is to be there. To be there after today. To be there next week. To be there next month. To be there next year. To be there when Katie's little baby grows up. Be one of the ones that she didn't expect to offer a random act of kindness to Katie and her baby."
Pastor Chuck Wilcher of Northwest Bible Church in Wheeling, where James Stack was raised, said people do not earn their way into heaven, it is a gift earned by the death of Christ.
"James is far better having made the presence of God our Savior as the Bible clearly states," said Wilcher. "Bob and Linda won't lose James again."
Robert Stack, James' father, spoke to all the members of his family, including Katie and Mikayla.
"Mikayla is the most precious child. Your father was a great American and a loving father. Katie you are family. God made family for purposes, one of which is to take care of each other. We are glad that you are part of our family."
He recapped James' life, especially his skill as a duck hunter learned in central Illinois where his grandparents have a farm.
And incredible as it seems, as a young boy James really wanted a little sister, then he and Megan, now 16, became "the best of friends," and strangers commented how well they got along.
Robert Stack read from a letter he treasures that came just three days before his son's death. James wrote that he was "so lucky to have a great dad like you. I feel like I'm your son and also a friend. When I think of a man I want to be like or model myself after, it's always you, Pops."
Linda Stack said that whenever she was sick, James would cook for her. And she spent a lot of time with him because she and her husband taught their children at home.
"I got to enjoy him for almost 16 years 24-7 until he met Katie," said his mother, admitting to being jealous.
One thing Linda and Robert Stack enjoyed during this ordeal was a flock of geese flying in formation over Thursday's motorcade that carried the body of the goose and duck hunter from Chicago Executive Airport through Arlington Heights to Glueckert Funeral Home.
Linda said she and Robert have had difficulty sleeping since hearing about their son, but sometimes one of them can sleep when the other can't.
"I woke at 4 a.m. and heard Bob whistling in the shower, 'When we all get to heaven what a wonderful day that will be.'"
And Linda Stack made a point of thanking another family that James had made his own during his short time.
"It's a unique family, the United States Marines. Thank you each and every one of you for serving and protecting our nation, protecting our precious freedom and for being there for Katie and my family."