In a ceremony all too familiar to military families, an American flag, folded with precision into a crisp triangle, was gently handed to Rosanna Powers yesterday.
Powers, a Marine corporal on inactive reserve, gathered with family at Arlington National Cemetery to inter the ashes of her brother, Lance Cpl. Caleb J. Powers. The 21-year-old Marine was killed Aug. 17 in western Iraq, the victim of an insurgent's bullet as he stood guard at his unit's compound in Al Anbar province.
Rosanna Powers was still struggling to cope with her brother's death when she got word that her fiance, Sgt. Richard Lord, 24, the father of her young son, had been killed in Iraq. Lord died Aug. 18, one day after Caleb Powers and also in Al Anbar.
Imagine "your worst nightmare," Rosanna Powers said yesterday. "I couldn't believe this could actually happen to someone."
Friends of Caleb Powers lovingly portrayed him as a young man who cobbled together the shards of a tumultuous childhood and transformed them into the stuff of role models -- offering hope to disadvantaged youth and children from broken homes.
Powers's parents divorced when he was a small child. Described by those who knew him as a high-energy child -- years later he was found to have attention deficit disorder -- Powers was sent to a group home, where he stayed until age 9, when he was placed in a residential facility run by Childhelp USA, a nonprofit agency that serves abused and neglected children.
Officials with the organization say Powers was among the first residents of the Alice C. Tyler Village of Childhelp East in Northern Virginia.
It was at a mentoring session that Powers met Adm. William A. Owens, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who saw the shy, withdrawn boy standing apart from his peers and chose him to be his "special friend," a Childhelp designation for its big brother- styled program.
Officials said Powers flourished, and they credit Owens with drawing out the young boy, taking him on a special submarine tour and to the White House, among other high-profile excursions. They spent many weekends together, forging a strong bond, friends said.
"You can imagine what that did for Caleb's self-esteem," said Childhelp co-founder Sara O'Meara.
When he was 13, Powers was taken in by extended family in the farming community of Mansfield, Wash., where he lived until he joined the Marines in 2001, enlisting on his 18th birthday.
Childhelp officials say Powers returned often to lend a hand with fundraising events, sometimes appearing alongside celebrities and other notables. He also spoke to the children there, encouraging them to consider a bright future.
O'Meara recalled that one of Powers's pep talks went like this: "Believe these people when they [say] you can make anything you want out of yourself. It's true. Look at me."
She added: "He knew what life was about. Giving back."
At the time of his death, Powers was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division from Camp Pendleton.
Jay Cooper met Powers at the California base. It was a chance encounter at a movie theater, and the entertainment industry executive who works in fundraising said he and Powers were surprised to discover that they both had ties to Childhelp. They became close friends.
"It's been painful for everyone," said Cooper, who attended the service at Arlington.
"You just don't know who he could have been and how great his contributions would have been," Cooper said, his voice choked with emotion. "He touched so many people in his short life that he'll always be remembered. We know that."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.