WESTVILLE | Close to 1,000 family, friends, veterans and others filled the Westville High School auditorium Saturday to bid final farewell to Lance Cpl. Joshua Birchfield.

With the U.S. and Indiana flags flying at half-staff outside the school and Westville businesses paying tribute on their marquees, Birchfield was remembered as a hero by many of those who spoke or shared their memories of him as read by a family spokesman. Birchfield, 24, was killed Feb. 19 while fighting in Afghanistan with his Marine unit out of Twentynine Palms, Calif.

His humor and generosity were traits people remembered. The descriptions of his ability to make people laugh brought ripples of laughter among the tears. One family member told of an instance when Birchfield's parents overheard a phone conversation in which he was describing to someone an evening's exploits with friends. They were shocked at some of the things he told the person on the other end. It wasn't until he hung up that they learned he was talking to his grandmother.

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., hailed Birchfield's actions in preserving freedom and reported the city in the area where Birchfield was killed recently was returned to government control for the first time in 10 years. A representative of Gov. Mitch Daniel's office and of the American Gold Star Mothers spoke, the latter telling the family she almost didn't come to the funeral.

The AGSM is made up of women who have lost a son or daughter who were serving their country. The spokeswoman said, while none of these occasions is easy, it was especially tough for her to be at Birchfield's funeral because it reminded her so much of her own son's death a few years ago. He also was a Marine lance corporal and died in the Middle East.

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The mourners were greeted by pictures of Birchfield sharing good times with his family and friends and in his Marine uniform. Birchfield's family has declined to talk to the media about their son's death, but the funeral program included a message thanking everyone for "your heartfelt prayers, condolences and generosity during this difficult time."

"You certainly know how to come together and support a grieving family," the statement said. "The stories you've shared and the love you all felt for Josh was amazing. Our hearts break today, but we feel closer to Josh through all of you and your memories."

Birchfield's decision to join the Marines two years ago was based on wanting to challenge himself and do it with the best, one of the speakers said. He was just three months shy of his 25th birthday and on his first deployment overseas at the time of his death.

Flags, provided by a local veterans group, dotted the crowd. As the crowd left the auditorium to go to the cemetery, a light, wet snow began to fall.

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