It was standing room only at Gateway Community Church in Merced on Wednesday morning, with more than 1,000 people paying their respects to fallen Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Pickard.
The 20-year-old Merced County native was killed by small arms fire the morning of Dec. 19 in Iraq.
"We thank you for the life of Joshua Pickard," Gateway Pastor Al Schaap said during the opening prayer of the service. "God, we're sorry that it was so short."
Pickard was in his third year of service in the Marines, serving as an amphibious assault vehicle driver. He had just reached the halfway point in his second tour when he was killed in action.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
The Marine grew up in Merced County, attending McSwain Elementary School from first through eighth grades and Atwater and Buhach Colony high schools. He graduated in 2004.
Pictures from those school years, as well as his time as a Marine, were projected on a screen during the service.
Many of those pictures included his three brothers Darren, Tyson and Dylan.
"It's Christmas, the season of giving. It's only fitting to ask ourselves what it means to give," said Darren Pickard, also a Marine. "Josh understands that now more than any of us."
Darren Pickard stopped several times while addressing the huge crowd at his brother's funeral, holding back tears.
"Josh, for your friendship, for your brotherly love and for your service to all of us, I salute you," he said.
He also read a poem about a soldier meeting God in heaven, choking through the final lines.
Bill Hume, Pickard's uncle, shared some of his memories of the fallen Marine.
"To his Marine family, I know he was a tough son-of-a-gun," Hume said. "But to us he was just one big smiling kid."
Hume said Pickard was adventurous, bungee-jumping at 13 and snowboarding until his whole body was bruised.
He also said Pickard had a love for food and would eat anything put in front of him.
"But most important was Joshua's love of family," Hume said. "You (parents Terri and Larry Pickard) should be proud you raised a wonderful, wonderful son."
Pickard's uncle Rob Scheidt read a letter he wrote the Marine a day after his death, struggling with emotion as he read every line.
"I have so many things that I wish I would have shared with you," Scheidt read. "You were such a special kid, I hope you know that."
He went on to tell Pickard in the letter he was proud of his relationship with God and knew Pickard was with him now. He also said he knew that Pickard would have made an excellent father and husband.
Scheidt also apologized to Pickard for not voicing how proud he was of his service in the Marines more often.
"I was just scared for you and didn't want to go through what we're going through now," he said.
Scheidt ended the letter telling Pickard if they met again after his own death, he planned to give him a bear hug.
"I love you and I will say goodbye," he read. "It's not the way I wanted it, but it will be goodbye for now."
The service continued at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery near Santa Nella. Two charter buses carried family members there, and a procession of about 100 vehicles followed.
There, a 21-gun salute was given, Taps was played and Marine Corps Maj. Bob Rehder handed over the flag covering Pickard's casket to his mother, Terri Pickard.
Many attending the services returned to Gateway for a luncheon, where Terri and Pickard's father Larry were flooded with hugs and support from family and friends.
"I want to thank everyone for their support," Terri Pickard said.
That support, Hume said, will help Terri Pickard and her family get though this time.
"Joshua would want us to remember him with smiles," Hume said. "Joshua, you have and always will be loved and you will never be forgotten.
"God bless you."
Reporter Abby Souza can be reached at 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A statement was issued by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
"By voluntarily joining the armed forces, Cpl. Pickard committed himself to protecting our country, giving the ultimate sacrifice with his life. Maria and I join all Californians in sending our condolences to Joshua's family and friends who have lost a cherished loved one. His loss is a painful reminder of the sacrifices our nation's armed forces make to preserve our freedom."
In honor of Cpl. Pickard, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.