After the volleys had been fired yesterday and taps had been played, and the honor guard of marines had filed away, a group of young men and women walked slowly to the grave beneath a locust tree in Arlington National Cemetery.
Each one touched the shiny coffin, each one picked a flower. And then they gathered in little groups and hugged one another and cried. Cpl. Robert McMaugh had died a marine, but the man they remembered was Bobby, the class clown of Osbourn High in Manassas.
They knew Cpl. Robert McMaugh, 21, was one of 61 people killed when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed last week. He was standing guard just inside the front entrance when the bomb exploded just outside the door. "But somehow, though you know he was killed as a soldier, you don't think of him like that," said his good friend Matt McLaughlin, who said he always seemed to get in trouble with the teacher at the same time McMaugh did. "I know he died for his country, but it doesn't seem to fit."
McMaugh died half a world away from his home and his friends, thousands of miles from the Pizza Hut on Centreville Road where the kids used to hang out, from the football field where Bobby used to crack jokes during pushups, from tailgate parties at the Washington Diplomats soccer games and from the yearbook that remembers him being selected both class clown and owner of the best pair of legs.
McMaugh had graduated from Osbourn High School in 1980 and joined the Marines a few months later. His father, Earl McMaugh, said last week that his son enlisted "to help him decide what direction to go in." Boot camp seemed to agree with him, his friends said, and though he looked funny with his crewcut he had gained more than 20 pounds of muscle. He volunteered to be one of the Marines' elite embassy guards, and went to Beirut in September. "He was proud of what he was doing, though he knew there was risk involved," Earl McMaugh said.
The Saturday before he was killed, Bobby McMaugh called home, his father said, "to say he thought he'd found something, that he wanted to make a career in the Marines and possibly go to officers candidate school."
Though he never got to finish his plan, Bobby McMaugh was warmly remembered and duly honored yesterday. Hundreds of people, including his parents, his brother and two sisters, attended his memorial service yesterday morning at All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, and the procession from Manassas to another service at the chapel at Fort Myer was more than a mile long.
As the police-escorted procession passed along Centreville Road, the people of Manassas stopped what they were doing and stood along the road, stood outside Taco Bell and Jiffy Lube and Manassas Cleaners and watched one of their boys go by. Prince William County police stood at parade rest at the spot where Centreville Road crosses Bull Run, motorcycle police from Fairfax County lined the shoulder of I-66 near the Leesburg Pike exit.
At the service at Fort Myer, Navy Chaplain James Mennis told the gathering that McMaugh "gave his life willingly. He was on duty at his post as he ought to have been. For all of us, that's all that can be asked--no more can be expected."
But once the formalities were done, once the honors accorded all soldiers completed, the honors accorded a son, brother and friend commenced. McMaugh's sister Cherie, 7, laid a rose on the coffin. Then his mother, Annie, added a miniature flag. And after his friends had bade him goodbye, more private eulogies were said.
"When I was a freshman football player and he was a junior, he was the kind of guy you could look up to," said Curtis Midkitt, now a senior at Osbourn. "We would be scared and nobody would talk to us, but he would tell us to relax and go slow. He would talk to us when others wouldn't."
"He was always laughing, he was always making somebody laugh. He wouldn't quit," McLaughin said. "When you were down, he would bring you right back up."
"He was like the life of a party. He loved having a good time," said Tim Demeria, behind whose house the two often spent hours shooting baskets.
"He was, well, just put down there that he was a good kid." Demeria said.