Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Marine Pfc. Daniel B. Chaires

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Pfc. Daniel B. Chaires, 20, of Tallahassee, Fla.

Pfc. Chaires was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; died Oct. 25 from wounds sustained while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq.

By Gerald Ensley

Harry Chaires remained stoic through most of his son's funeral. But when a U.S. Marine captain knelt and handed him the folded American flag from the casket, Chaires began to tremble and weep.

He was not alone. More than 1,000 people thronged to Chaires, a small community east of Tallahassee, on Thursday for the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Chaires, 20, who was killed in combat in Iraq. Almost all left with tear-stained faces. It is impossible not to grieve the loss of the young who serve their country.

Chaires was killed Oct. 25 in a gun battle with Iraqi insurgents. He is at least the sixth resident of Leon and surrounding counties to die in Afghanistan or Iraq since this war began.

Chaires had deep roots in Tallahassee. He was descended from one of Leon County's pioneer families. His father, Harry Chaires, is a retired Leon County Sheriff's Office captain; his mother, Nanna Cuchens, is a former hospital emergency-room director who now teaches at Florida State University.

Those ties and Daniel Chaires' military service drew an inordinately large crowd for a funeral that was an evocative blend of military custom and Old South tradition.

The funeral service was held in the Chaires United Methodist Church, which Chaires attended from childhood through his enlistment in the Marines a year ago. Only 150 people could be shoehorned into the church; the remainder stood outside listening to the service through speakers. The crowd included Chaires' relatives, neighbors, colleagues and students, cadres of law enforcement, military, university and government officials, plus numerous local residents who didn't know the family but were moved by their loss.

Three pastors, one of Daniel's older brothers and a retired U.S. Navy officer delivered eulogies. Six Marines flanked his casket throughout the 55-minute service; his Marine hat, saber and gloves sat on a table to the side.

A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace." A brass quintet played the Marine Corps hymn. A singer and guitarist performed "God Bless the U.S.A."

After the service, the Marines carried the casket to a horse-drawn wagon, which carried Chaires to a grave behind his parents' home. The procession of mourners walking behind the wagon stretched the entire quarter mile on Chaires Cross Road between the church and home. Students and teachers from Chaires Elementary School stood along the road, holding small U.S. flags. The bagpiper played "Danny Boy."

Chaires' casket was laid over a grave his father prepared in a clearing behind the family home, flanked by dogwood trees, azalea bushes and a newly planted flagpole. Marines fired a 21-gun salute. The flag was presented to Harry Chaires.

It was a touching pageant.

"I've been to funerals for heads of state that weren't this nice," said former Florida Lt. Gov. Bobby Brantley, a Chaires family friend. "It really fit this community."

Chaires was emblematic of the Chaires community, which was settled in the 1820s by his ancestors. He was an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman who was home-schooled and served as chief companion to his late grandfather - famously ferrying his grandfather over community fields and roads in a golf cart long before he was of driving age.

"He was proud to be part of this Chaires community," said his older brother, Todd Chaires. "He was the true definition of a Southern gentleman. He had the ability to melt you with his 'yes sirs' and 'no sirs' to everyone, no matter their age. I never saw that child without a smile on his face."

All three pastors, including Daniel Chaires' uncle, Anthony Cuchens, seconded Daniel's affection for his community - and his family.

"I don't know that I ever met a young man who loved his mother and father more than he did, y'all," said Cuchens, nodding at Daniel's parents. "Hang on to that. Daniel's love will always be there for you."

The most stirring eulogy came from retired Navy officer Jim Whyte, who teaches in the Florida State College of Nursing along with Daniel's mother. Whyte began his military career in the Marines and pronounced Marines "a cut above" other people. He said they are unabashedly trained to be "warriors" and said Daniel Chaires made the "same sacrifice for family and country" as all previous Marines killed in war.

"Daniel was not a victim of circumstances; this was no accident," Whyte said. "Instead of running for cover, Daniel chose to move as the point man through the kill zone. He willingly gave his most precious possession for his comrades.

"Thank God for Daniel Chaires. Let us never forget he did this for us."

Marine Pfc. Daniel B. Chaires was killed in action on 10/25/06.

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