ATLANTA — The days following Marine Lance Cpl. Skip Wells’ death were filled with the pageantry befitting a hero.
Photographer Ethan Andrews posted a beautiful tribute, with video of the funeral procession taken by a drone, on YouTube.
On Tuesday, hundreds packed the stadium at his alma mater, Sprayberry High School, for a public memorial complete with military flyover. His flag-draped coffin was greeted by the Delta Honor Guard upon arrival at the airport on Thursday, and scores of supporters stood on a Cobb County highway overpass to greet the procession escorting his body to the funeral home.
On Sunday, it was time for a final goodbye.
“Skip’s life, as short as it was, mattered,” Woodstock Baptist Church senior pastor Johnny Hunt said during Wells’ funeral. “His life made a difference.”
Wells, 21, was one of four Marines killed in a terrorist’s rampage on two military sites on July 16 in Chattanooga. A sailor injured in the attacks died a few days later.
Wells’ funeral followed two days of visitation at Winkenhofer Pine Ridge Funeral Home in Kennesaw. He was buried at Georgia National Cemetery in Canton.
Mourners started filling the church parking lot hours before the funeral began. A fleet of motorcycle riders bearing standards stood at attention along the path leading to the front entrance, and a Marine honor guard escorted Wells’ casket into the building.
After the congregation stood to sing “How Great Thou Art,” Wells’ close friend Jarekq D. Aloisio shared memories both funny and poignant. They became friends when their moms set up play dates for the two boys and were inseparable throughout grade and high school. At Sprayberry High School, Aloisio played football while Wells was in the marching band. Aloisio’s Facebook profile photo shows the two buddies in their respective game-night uniforms.
“We were always together,” Aloisio said.
One anecdote in particular illustrated both Wells’ fun-loving heart and dedicated soul.
“I tried getting Skip into skateboarding. He was smarter than that,” Aloisio recalled. After he kissed the sidewalk, Wells ran to his rescue, hauling his bleeding and battered friend up the driveway shouting lines inspired by wartime movies: “Medic! Get me some morphine!”
The guys would spend hours firing toy pistols at imaginary enemies or devising troop movements with their platoons of toy soldiers, a pastime that was both fun and meaningful.
“Together, we found his calling,” Alosio said.
Marine First Sgt. John E. Coyne got to know Wells after he enlisted and was quickly impressed. Everywhere he turned, it seemed, there would be the young lance corporal at parade rest, seizing the opportunity to ask questions about how he could improve.
“He was what we call a hard charger,” Coyne said.
During a training mission, Wells crossed paths with the business end of a sledgehammer. Coyne took a look at Wells’ smashed thumb and said he probably would need to come out of the field to receive medical treatment. Wells wouldn’t have it.
“First Sergeant, I will not leave my gun,” he recalled Wells saying. “I’ll refuse medical treatment but I’m not leaving my position.”
That selflessness was on a display when a terrorist opened fire at the Chattanooga military site where Wells was serving, Coyne said.
“He cared more about his fellow Marines and the mission than he did about himself,” he said.
Before bagpiper Steve Thrasher filled the air with a mournful presentation of “Amazing Grace,” Coyne made a promise to Wells’ mother, Cathy Wells.
“Mrs. Wells, you will forever be a part of the Marine Corps family,” he said. “We will not leave you behind.”