MATTAPOISETT — Under heavy gray skies, hundreds of people filed slowly into a funeral home here to attend the wake of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew R. Rodriguez, a 19-year-old from Fairhaven, remembered as a kind man with an infectious smile.
From before the wake officially started at 1 p.m. until after the sky darkened, hundreds of people — some who knew him well and others who did not — entered the one-story building and walked past bulletin boards filled with photographs of Rodriguez at different ages.
Rodriguez died Dec. 11 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in what the Pentagon described as “combat operations.”
Michael Knabbe, a family friend who knew Rodriguez for more than a decade, recalled him as a generous and kind person with a unforgettable smile.
“The thing about Matthew was he had this infectious smile, even as a young boy,” he said. “He couldn’t not smile. And it was an infectious smile, because when you saw him, you would always smile too.”
Knabbe took out his iPhone and pulled up a photo that showed Rodriguez sitting with his fiancée, wide grin on his face.
Knabbe said at boot camp, Rodriguez sometimes got in trouble for smiling.
“The drill instructors would be on him, dogging him and he’d just keep smiling,” he said.
Knabbe said when Rodriguez enlisted in the Marine Corps, he fulfilled his dream of following in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Corps.
Scores of veterans attended the wake over the course of the day.
Among those who paid their respects early this afternoon was William Kligel, a retired Army sergeant first class, who had himself grown up in Fairhaven.
“He felt so dedicated to what he believed in, he paid the ultimate price,” Kligel said of Rodriguez.
Later in the afternoon, a few men who had grown up with Rodriguez stood in a circle outside. They smoked cigarettes and reminisced about him.
“I just remember him always saying he wanted to do what his dad did — to be a Marine,” said Ian Soares, 20, of Fairhaven, who went to high school with him.
“The kid always had a smile on his face,” said Dartmouth resident Thomas Forcier, who played baseball with Rodriguez when they were kids.
“You never got a negative vibe from him,” said Aaron Brito, 21. He was “very genuine, very happy,” he said.
Outside the funeral home, seven somber-faced men from the Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer organization, stood holding American flags, which snapped loudly in the breeze.
They stood holding the flags as mourners, many wearing black, slowly shuffled in. And they remained standing there as the mourners, many clutching tissues, left.
Rodriguez is survived by his parents, Rod and Lisa; his brother and two sisters; and Julia Tapper of Fairhaven, to whom he became engaged after he finished boot camp.
The funeral service for Rodriguez will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at the First Congregational Church of Fairhaven, with burial to follow at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
A handwritten sign inside the funeral home, which at some points in the afternoon was packed with hundreds of people, said the “sheer magnitude of people who have shown their love & support for Matthew & our family has been amazing.”
“[T]hank you for the overwhelming love you have shown to us & our Matthew,” the sign said.