Family, friends and fellow veterans, about 200 in all, gathered Saturday at Yakima Foursquare Church to honor and say farewell to fallen Army Spc. Evan Mettie, who after 12 years finally succumbed to complications from a combat injury he suffered in Iraq.
On New Year's Day 2006, an improvised explosive device leveled Mattie. Shrapnel pierced his head, damaged his brain stem and left him paralyzed.
He lived that way until he recently became ill with pneumonia. He died Oct. 14. He was 34.
At the church Saturday, his life unfolded through a display of photos and many stories of his quirky sense of humor as told by family and friends.
Army National Guard Chaplain Dirk Robinson set the tone of the service as a celebration of Mettie's life filled with fun memories despite the somber cloud his death has left over the community.
And so it was.
Robinson recounted stories Mettie's parents, Dave and Denise, shared with him about their son being a spontaneous, quirky kid full of energy -- a poster child for ADHD, he quoted Denise as saying.
"He loved to crawl in the mud as a kid. It's no wonder that he joined the Army," Robinson said.
Mettie liked butter, and in basic training he took a bunch from the kitchen for his unit, Robinson said.
"Well, the drill sergeant found out about it and his unit lost its butter privileges," he said with a laugh.
Other stories were told.
Family friend Rose Ferri recalled when the Metties were over for dinner years ago. It was getting late, and the kids were supposed to be tucked in. It got quiet, so Ferri checked on them. She found Evan, about 4 at time, playing with a makeshift fishing pole. He had pulled a piece of wire from her wire magazine rack and bent it into the shape of a fishing pole with a hook.
Evan's mom was worried about the damage to the magazine rack, but Ferri said she kept the contraption for years.
"I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, this child is so intelligent and creative, they're (his parents) in trouble."
Mettie's Aunt Carol told how they once were on a boating outing when the boat broke down. Mettie was left with his cousins on a dock, his dad went looking for a mechanic and his mom and aunt were on shore, an arrangement that didn't sit too well with Carol's daughter, Casie, who had to watch her brother and Mettie.
"'If you do that again, I'm going to kill you,'" Carol recalled her daughter saying to her afterward. '"I was stuck with David being a pain in the butt and Evan quoting the encyclopedia.'"
High school friend Brian Skotland asked Dave and Denise: "You remember my van?"
Skotland was out front of Selah High School one time with the van door open. Friends piled in, and he attempted to leave as Mettie stepped into the parking lot. "Here comes Evan, let's go," he recalled saying,
But Mettie, who lettered in track, darted to the van and jumped inside. The door struck him in the leg as it closed, leaving a gash. He was bleeding, so they went to the house of a friend.
"And we ruined a bunch of their towels," Skotland said. "We called you (Denise) and told you, and I remember you saying, 'Oh, it was probably his fault.'"
Denise vividly recalled the incident.
"It was a huge gash, and I had to take him to the ER, and he had to have several stitches," she said.
On a big screen, photos flipped through Mettie's life. There were images of him as a toddler donning different hats, one of him shirtless and covered in mud. There were photos of him in Iraq, showing his ability to take a nap most anywhere. In one photo, he was stretched between two parked military vehicles, his head resting on the hood of one vehicle and his feet on the bumper of the other -- while he napped.
Fun stories about Mettie didn't overshadow the weight of his sacrifice for his country, nor the fight he and his family waged the past 12 years.
Denise quit her job to take care of him, and she testified before a U.S. Senate committee in seeking better care for wounded combat veterans, especially those who, like her son, suffered traumatic brain injury.
As a result, the military is allowed to help combat veterans receive better treatment from private rehabilitation centers.
Robinson took special note of that effort.
"They're receiving treatment because of Evan's and his mom's fight," Robinson said. "We've all learned something from Evan: Never give up -- fight the good fight to the end."
Casie said her cousin's memory will forever live in her heart.
"I'm just so proud of him and his service and everything his family has done for veterans," she said after the church service. "I'm just so proud to be part of the family."
More than two dozen motorcycles belonging to the local group Combat Veterans United formed a procession to Tahoma Cemetery, where Mettie was laid to rest with full military honors.
A calm fell over the cemetery amid raised flags, the playing of taps and servicemen folding an American flag to present to the family. Mettie's body was then lowered to its final resting place.
Dave Mettie said a dozen soldiers who served with his son were at his house the night before, sharing stories and photos. Having them there meant a lot, he said.
"We tipped a few back for Evan," he said.
This article is written by Phil Ferolito from Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.