The atmosphere at South Albany High School's parking lot was like a pep rally or maybe a class reunion Saturday morning, as young people in Rebel red smiled and yelled greetings across the cars to each other. Some met with hugs and pats on the back.
Friends, family, classmates and community members came together to celebrate the life of fallen Marine Joseph E. Rodewald. The 2007 South graduate was killed by a roadside bomb Oct. 13 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, six days shy of his 22nd birthday.
The sea of red T-shirts, most bearing Rodewald's football jersey No. 33 and photos or messages remembering Joe, parted as the procession of about 150 vehicles formed and made its way to Eugene, guided by more than 30 motorcycles representing the Patriot Guard.
As the pews filled at Garden Way Church in Eugene, tears starting forming for many of the more than 400 people who had gathered to honor Rodewald. His family said he wanted to be laid to rest in Eugene, where he was born and where his brother, who was stillborn, is buried. The family moved to Albany when Joe was 6.
After a welcome from Pastor Dave Vigna, Bryan Adams' "(Everything I do) I do it for you," kicked off the slide show. Images flashed of Rodewald as an infant; as a curly-haired, blond, blue-eyed toddler; as a boy and finally as a smiling young man. The tears flowed at the song's last chorus ended with, "I'd die for you."
Then the images flashed of a smiling, broad-shouldered young man, leaning close to the woman he'd ask to marry him. The last one had been taken less than a month before his death.
All three of Joe's brothers shared stories about him, often ending with a reference to Rodewald's sly grin and playful nature.
Youngest brother Josiah Rodewald remembered his brother Joe waking him up with a splash of water.
Oldest brother John Rodewald II, said he will continue to serve this country, as a soldier in the Army, as long as Joe would have served as a Marine.
Second-oldest brother Josh Rodewald acknowledged the presence of Chip Kelly, the head football coach at the University of Oregon, at his brother's service.
"He would have liked that," Josh said. Even as a child, Joseph Rodewald was a Ducks fan and in the slideshow of his life, he was often seen sporting green and yellow.
Joe's cousin, Ryan Rodewald, recalled playing video games all night with Joe, struggling to get up, then seeing who could eat the most pancakes.
"Mainly, I will treasure his laugh ... well, our laughs together."
Fiancee Kandi Hargett said they treated every day together as if it were their last.
"Joe gave me the best year of my life, and he made me change for the better," she said.
Uncle Mark Rodewald spoke of attending Ducks games with Joe when he was on leave. He also remembered Joe practicing dance moves to NSYNC's hit, "Bye, Bye, Bye."
Mark Rodewald said the family attended all of Joseph's graduations, including his military graduation.
"I want to say one last time: Joe, I'm proud of ya, and I love ya."
Uncle David Rodewald, his "California uncle," remembered Joe coming to the Marine base at Camp Pendleton in California and bringing his "lily-white" Oregon tan with him. The proximity meant more dinners and good times with Joe.
"I saw him grow from a boy, to a man, to a Marine," he said.
Father John Rodewald said the crowd assembled brought the family overwhelming support and solace.
"Everybody coming together today is a true gift to our family," he said.
After a song and prayer, the Marine Honor Guard presented the flag to each parent, mother Jacque Brotherton and his father, John. The sniffles became audible weeping as the Marines played "Taps" for their fallen comrade.
A small motorcade formed and about 60 people followed Rodewald's casket to his final resting place at Springfield Memorial Gardens.