Maj. Gregory J. Fester was known for always taking care of those around him -- friends, family, even strangers. And then there was his smile.
"He's just someone who was always happy and made everyone around him happy," said Timra Stump, 38, a former neighbor who had known Fester since elementary school. "He was one of those people who could make a bad day positive. He had the most infectious smile in the world."
Fester, 41, who lived near Grand Rapids, Mich., was killed in an explosion Aug. 30 in Iskandariyah, Iraq, while on a mission to build schools and repair other infrastructure in the war-torn country.
Yesterday, dozens of friends and family members gathered to remember Fester as he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. He was a reservist assigned to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command based in Fort Bragg, N.C.
Fester's daughters, Jenni, 16, and Megan, 13, and son, Peyton, 6, watched as a horse-drawn caisson carried their father's flag-draped coffin to the grave site. At the close of the ceremony, a military band played "America the Beautiful" as flags were presented to his wife, Julie Fester, mother, Virginia Piecoro, and father, William Fester.
Fester grew up in Westerville, Ohio, a close-knit community where he attended high school with his future wife, who was one year his junior. They began dating shortly after she graduated after "clicking" at a graduation party, friends said.
He went to Ohio State University and was a loyal Buckeyes fan who moved several years ago to rival territory in Michigan. Sandra Cleveland, a front desk supervisor at a medical office Fester used to visit in his job as a pharmaceutical sales representative, recalled how he would wear his beloved team's colors -- scarlet and gray -- on the eve of big games, especially those against the University of Michigan.
"It was good camaraderie back and forth," said Cleveland, 53. "He was so vibrant. He was always fun-loving, and he always had a smile on his face."
Fester also made frequent visits to the office of Arles Stern, a Kalamazoo psychiatrist, whom he provided with free samples of medicine for patients who could not afford it.
"He was kind and generous," Stern said. "There were a lot of people who benefited from him who didn't know him at all."
After college, Fester served several years in the Army, including a stint in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. He later remained in the Army Reserve and worked for Pfizer in New York. When his family moved to Michigan, Fester was active in a men's prayer group at Ada Bible Church.
When Fester learned in April that he had been summoned back to active duty, Bob King, a pastor at Ada Bible Church, was among those he called. King recalled that Fester was completely dedicated to serving his country and equally committed to ensuring that his loved ones would be taken care of during his absence.
"He was very concerned about his family," King said. "But as a soldier, he was ready to step up and do his duty. He truly had the desire to make the world a better place."
King said that a Sept. 6 memorial service for Fester drew more than 650 people and was the largest ever at the church.
On Thursday, flags in Michigan were lowered to half staff in Fester's honor. He was the 174th person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.