The sanctuary at Century Assembly had its share of tears on Monday afternoon, but it seemed to be full of people showing profound respect for Kyle Andrew Coumas, who was killed on Oct. 21 in Afghanistan.
"His legacy is that he loved his family, loved his friends and loved this nation," Pastor Dale Edwards said during the service that drew an estimated 500 people. "He didn't have a death wish. He did this because he felt it was his duty."
Patriotism, enjoyment of Army life and the desire to fight for American freedom were recurring themes by speakers at Coumas' service, who stood with Coumas' flag-draped casket, illuminated by a spotlight in front of them.
Coumas, 22, grew up in Lockeford and attended Mokelumne River and Century Christian schools before transferring to St. Mary's High School in Stockton. He was active in the concert band and Chess Club.
Monday's funeral drew the Lodi Police Honor Guard, students from Century Christian School and even those who never knew Coumas.
"We're all Americans, and we appreciate the sacrifices they've made. Kyle did that," said Angela Nicolini, who held a flag balloon outside the church. Two of her brothers, Paul and Alfred, held flags and clearly didn't mind spending an afternoon honoring a young man.
Jim Johnson, who used to live next door to the Coumas family in Lockeford, said he found out about Coumas' death on Oct. 21, when he took his car to Jiffy Lube on Kettleman Lane for servicing. It turned out that Coumas used to work at Jiffy Lube, and a stunned former co-worker happened to tell Johnson, not realizing that Johnson knew the Coumas family.
"I made him repeat it, and I didn't believe it," Johnson said at a reception after the funeral.
Johnson recalls Coumas frequently playing with Johnson's son, Adam, who was five years younger. They swam and played basketball together.
"Any time our garage door was open, Kyle would be there," Jim Johnson said.
One of Johnson's biggest memories was when son Adam would play "clod war" with Coumas in a dirt field next door. It was kind of like playing tag, but with dirt clods.
"He just loved music," Stockton resident Mycal Wayte said after the service. "He was really into rock and roll.
"He was probably one of the best kids I ever met in my life," Wayte said. "Basically good natured; you didn't have to worry about him … except for one time."
Wayte recalls one time when Coumas' parents were away from home when he was in high school.
"Kyle had a party and turned the whole front room into a dance floor," Wayte said.
He meticulously removed all the furniture and pictures from the wall so they wouldn't get damaged. Coumas almost got away with it, except that when he put the front room back together, one picture was out of place. His mother noticed, and he was in trouble.
"It was pretty funny," Wayte said. "I couldn't believe he actually did it."
Outside the service, Carla Cole was one of the Lodi residents who stood with the school children who held flags. Motorists honked horns in their support, and then the family came into sight, inside a vehicle.
"I was thinking that woman lost her only child, her only son. I took one look at her and I lost it," Cole said.
During the service, Coumas' cousin, Sgt. John Delarm, read some letters Coumas sent his parents in September and October.
"I just want to let you know I'm OK," Coumas said in a letter dated Sept. 9. "I'm learning pretty quick. I'll be all right."
Other random comments from his letters:
"It's hot as hell."
"I've seen a few camels around."
"Nothing has changed out here since Alexander the Great."
"Life out here is good."
A letter from Coumas' parents, Lori and Greg Coumas, were read as well.
"Our goal was for you to be your own person. We didn't like the direction at first. We wanted you to be safe and secure. … Our hearts and minds are bursting with pride."
News-Sentinel staff writer Layla Bohm contributed to this report.
Kyle Coumas at a glance
Education: Mokelumne River School in Acampo; Century Christian School in Lodi; St. Mary's High School Class of 2005. Participated in Chess Club and concert band, playing the coronet.
Hobbies: Music, video games, science fiction-fantasy books, action movies.
Military: Began active duty Feb. 8, 2007; assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash., in June 2007, and to Afghanistan in July. Member of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis.
Died: Oct. 21, 2009, in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Kyle Coumas' medals— Purple Heart
— Good Conduct
— Bronze Star
— Global War on Terrorism
— National Defense Service
— Afghanistan Campaign
— Army Service Ribbon
Notable quotes"This was his destiny. It's not every family who has been chosen to raise a hero."
— Pastor Dale Edwards
"He joined the Army to become an infantryman."
— Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis, commander general, Fort Lewis, Wash.
"He just loved music. He always asked me, 'How do you do this?
How do you do that?'"
— Mycal Wayte, who once sang in a band
"Kyle's grin — he always had that grin on his face."
— Robert Wong, former co-worker of Coumas' father