FAIRHAVEN — People lined the street in a hush, standing tall and speaking in whispers. They carried American flags, old veterans who walked with canes, young children who held their parents’ hand.
A steeple bell tolled, and the funeral procession for Matthew R. Rodriguez, a 19-year-old Marine who grew up in this coastal town, arrived at his childhood church. As veterans held a salute, four Marines lifted his flag-draped casket and carried it inside. Looking on, some wiped away tears.
Rodriguez, 25, a combat engineer who was killed in action in Afghanistan Dec. 11, was recalled at his funeral Monday as a man deeply devoted to his family and country, driven from a young age by an abiding sense of duty.
“He was born to be a Marine,” his sister, Lauren Webber, said in an emotional remembrance before several hundred mourners at First Congregational Church of Fairhaven. “I am honored to be his sister. He is my superhero.”
Following in his father’s footsteps, Rodriguez enlisted in the Marines in August 2012. He graduated from Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School and was engaged to be married.
He was assigned to the First Combat Engineer Battalion, First Marine Division, First Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Rodriguez, a lance corporal, has been awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the NATO Medal-
International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan.
Governor Deval Patrick and other officials attended the funeral. Last week, thousands lined the roads from New Bedford to Mattapoisett as his body was returned home.
Webber fought back tears as she recalled her brother’s “skater-boy” haircut as a young teenager, how he loved taking his nieces to the playground, and how he danced all night at her wedding.
“He could do a mean worm,” she said to laughter.
Rodriguez had a talent for fixing things around the house and was always happy to help, she said. When he was just 13, he painted a bedroom by himself without “spilling a drop” of paint. “He did it with a smile on his face,” she said.
Webber urged mourners to remember the sacrifice of veterans and support the troops any way they can. Through tears, she asked those who knew Rodriguez to raise a glass in his memory.
Rodriguez went through life smiling, mourners recalled. He even smiled in boot camp, a habit that sometimes got him into trouble.
His baseball teammates called him Smiley, but even that nickname was an understatement, his brother said.
“He loved everyone he met,” he said.
His voice strained with emotion, Adam Rodriguez said his brother “was my hero, and he still is.” He said he would try to honor his brother’s legacy by “doing my best in everything that I do.”
“My Marine,” he said. “My hero.”
After his eulogy, he and his sister embraced.
James Dewey, a military chaplain, said Rodriguez served with “honor and valor.”
“He carried his faith with him,” he said. “And he fought the good fight.”
The Rev. Bette McClure, the church pastor, said it was natural for those who knew Rodriguez to be angry over “the unfairness of it all” and have questions “for which there are no good answers.”
“It might seem impossible to have any sense of hope,” she said, but in time, light would overcome the darkness.
“Believe me that the light will once again shine.”
Two close friends of Rodriguez read from Scripture, and many teenage friends came to pay their respects.
After a final hymn, four Marines walked to the front of the church to carry his casket from the church. Outside, in the driving rain, a veteran watched as the procession drove away. He didn’t know Rodriguez or his family, but felt bound to be there.
“Strength in numbers,” he said.