HIGHLAND — The mourners at St. Paul Catholic Church on Wednesday morning were a mix of people who knew Cpl. Aaron Ripperda his whole life and those who never met him.
Ripperda was 26 and just a couple of months from getting out of the Marines when he was killed in a training accident on March 18 in Nevada. A 60 mm mortar round exploded in the mortar tube, killing Ripperda and six others.
During Wednesday morning services, a little boy stood at the church door and stared up the aisle before he returned to his mother's side.
A woman kneeled with a rosary in her hand, praying and crying.
Behind her, a Marine sat in full dress uniform, white gloves covering his hands.
Some carried small American flags.
At the front of the church, Easter lilies and colorful tulips adorned the alter.
The rumble of motorcycles that led the four-block procession from Meridith Funeral home to St. Paul's could be heard inside the church. A woman in a black suit carried a basket filled with red carnations and white lilies and blue flowers to the front of the church as Ripperda's coffin covered with an American flag entered the vestibule of the church, flanked by seven Marines.
Ripperda's parents, Kent and Colleen Ripperda and Tina and Jeff Sutton, his sister, Kendall and other family and friends followed the coffin up the center aisle. A man wearing a jacket with a patch that said "Pearl Harbor Survivor" walked up the side aisle. His walker squeaked against the tile floor as he pushed it along.
Rev. Scott Snider sprinkled holy water on the casket, then a large cloth was placed over the coffin.
During the homily, Snider pondered why Ripperda may have joined the Marines --- patriotism, a personal challenge, a sense of adventure --- or a bigger vision to protect the freedoms of his country and to be there for his fellow soldiers. It may have been both, Snider answered.
"Aaron was concerned for people," Snider said. "He wanted everyone to be comfortable and included."
Marines in the dress uniforms sat at the back of the church. White hats held in their white-gloved hands.
"We look forward to the day when the warriors' work is done and the light of peace breaks across the world," Snider said.
Outside, the church's parking lot was filled with motorcycles and their riders who lead the procession to St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in Carlyle.
Kara Balassi, of St. Peters, Mo., and her friend Kali Durrwachter, of Troy, stood outside the church with balloons and a sign written in red and blue ink.
"I came to support Aaron and his family -- for what they sacrificed for our country," Balassi said, "My father was a Vietnam veteran and he died in November. When I heard about this, it really touched my heart."
"We just wanted to show our gratitude and support," Durrwachter said.
There was no sign of the promised protests from the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members pickets military funerals to protest homosexuality.
Durrwachter and Balassi said they wanted to show their respect for the man who wanted to travel, go back to school and restore a sailboat to put on Carlyle Lake.
"Aaron is at peace," Snider told the mourners during the service. "He is with his Heavenly father."
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at email@example.com or 618-239-2570.