Pfc. Andrew "Drew" N. Meari was laid to rest Thursday with all of the pomp and circumstance befitting a military hero, including a eulogy by Gov. Pat Quinn, but also with a bit of levity that evoked tears and laughter.
Major Gen. David Quantock, commanding officer at Fort Leonard Wood Army Base in Missouri, told the 100-plus people gathered at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery that it is customary for soldiers to hold their own ceremony for a fallen comrade. In this case, it was held in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where Meari, 21, of Plainfield, and another soldier were killed Nov. 1 by a suicide bomber.
"He was the DJ -- he was 'DJ Tyger.' That's what I'll remember," a friend of Meari's wrote in a statement that was read during his unit's ceremony and shared with those in attendance at his funeral. Meari's love of music, spinning CDs at parties and sense of fun were well-known among his family and friends.
"There was never a dull moment when he was around. His antics and his 'don't sweat the small stuff' (attitude) never ceased to amaze me. … I love you, man. You are my hero."
Meari was, in fact, a hero, Quantock said. Had he and another soldier not blocked an insurgent as he detonated a homemade explosive, far more would have been injured and killed, he said.
"(It could be said) that he did it for his country, for his government, but my guess is he mostly did it for his buddies," Quantock said. "Soldiers are bonded together by a common spirit, by patriotism, and by a desire for peace."
Meari's parents, Denise Meehan, of Plainfield, and Mahmoud Meari, of Grafton, Wis., were presented several military honors awarded to Meari posthumously, including a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and Good Conduct and Non-Article 5 NATO medals.
Meari's sendoff began at Dames Funeral Home in Joliet, where a procession to the cemetery was led more than 40 motorcycles and the hearse followed by dozens of cars and police vehicles. Clusters of people carrying American flags dotted Route 53 to pay their respects.
The funeral procession passed beneath a huge American flag held up by two cranes. Military veterans and others lined both sides of the road as the cars made their way to the outdoor committal area.
Gov. Pat Quinn was among the first to speak, citing the appropriateness of holding Meari's funeral on Veterans Day and urging those in attendance to remember Abraham Lincoln's words that anyone who gives up his life for his country should not "have died in vain."
"He wanted to protect our democracy from those who would do it harm," Quinn said. "We have an obligation to make sure that Andrew did not die in vain."
The word "hero," he said, is applied too frequently – and inappropriately – to rock stars and sports figures, to the point where its meaning has become diluted.
"They really aren't the genuine heroes or role models we should have our children (emulate). Andrew's a hero."
The funeral concluded with the ceremonial folding of the flag that draped Meari's casket, the firing of a rifle three times and the playing of "Taps." A private burial attended by family only followed.