"Ever since he was tiny he loved the Guard. Nothing else would do for him. He loved to sail," said William McDowell, his head bowed, his back to the silver coffin that held the body of his 22-year-old son.
Little else was said at the grave site of William Scott McDowell, the quiet seaman apprentice who was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, one of 11 Cremen killed aboard the cutter Cuyahoga in a Chesapeake Bay collision a week ago yesterday.
Earlier, McDowell's flag-draped coffin was carried into the Fort Myer Chapel by a Navy honor guard McDowell's grieving mother, Georgine, sat in a limousine outside the chapel throughout the service, comforted by her son's best friend, Mike Atran.
In the muted light of the chapel, the rest of the McDowell family - father, two brothers, Eric, 16, and William Jr., 23, a sister Katherine, 18, - sat in the second row of pews. Behind them were seven empty rows, then three rows on each side of the aisle filled with coast guardsmen from the service's Washington headquarters.
Navy Chaplain Dudley C. Hathaway led a 15-minute service with a single reference to McDowell. He said after the service he had been unable to contact the family in time to prepare personal remarks for the chapel or graveside services.
Only the singing of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," with its refrain of "Oh hear us when we cry to the for those in peril on the sea," seemed directed to the mourners at the front of the chapel. There was no mention of the Cuyahoga.
McDowell's body was recovered by military divers on Monday from the vessel, which sank off Smith Point, Va., after colliding with an Argentinean freighter last Friday night.
McDowell, a resident of a Rochester, N.Y., suburb, was described by friends as a quiet, deeply religious man with a dry sense of humor. He had joined the Coast Guard seven months ago for a six-year hitch. Because he had decided to make it his career, he was buried in uniform at the family's request, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
"He had a boat at our local lake. We could never get him off of it," said the elder McDowell of his son, whose first day abroad the Cuyahoga was last Friday.
The crack of a six-gun saluate and the bugling of taps sounded at his graveside, section 53, grave number 1,800. The chaplain's brief remarks and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer were barely audible above the drone of a plane passing overhead.
After the service, all but McDowell's mother moved away from the site. She clenched the neatly folded flag that had earlier been presented to McDowell's father. She moved away only after Atran, McDowell's friend, put his arm around her shoulder and led her away.
McDowell had planned to visit family friends, the Joseph Condoluci family of Somers Point, N.J., after the Cuyahoga cruise and had written them a letter two days before he died.
"It will be good to get away from here. See you soon (I hope), Dave," he closed the letter.
McDowell had worked for the Condolucis in their greenhouse for six years, earning money for college. In a telephone interview, Joseph Condoluci recalled how McDowell enjoyed puttering with car engines and listening to music while he worked in the greenhouse.
"He was very quiet and well-mannered, a home-fellow. You could trust him with anything," he said.
"He was very much a man," his father told a reporter after the funeral. "He didn't share his emotions much, but he was a lot of fun."