Soldier remembered

Online Poster

By Acton Gorton

Champaign paid tribute to a fallen hero Saturday afternoon as the body of Marine Cpl. Nathaniel K. Moore was guided by a motorcade of police to his final resting place in Matoon, Ill. Known as “Nate” to his friends, Moore grew up in Champaign before enlisting in the Marine Corps.

Moore died two weeks ago when the transport helicopter he was riding in crashed during a sandstorm in western Iraq, killing all 31 troops onboard. Moore and his platoon were traveling on a mission to provide security for Iraqis who would be voting in the Jan. 30 election. Moore received full military honors for his service.

Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart likened Moore’s sacrifice to those who died in World War II. He said servicemen’s commitment to serving their country was just as strong then as it is now, but more so because the current military is comprised of an all-volunteer force.

Lt. Governor Pat Quinn also spoke at the service.

“The real heroes of our society are the Nathaniel Moores who stand up and answer the call of the country to defend freedom,” Quinn said.

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“We would do very well to emulate his life,” said Quinn, who became visibly emotional during his address.

Don Carter, former Champaign chief of police, looked directly at Moore’s family as he spoke.

“I am awed and humbled for the sacrifice you made, the sacrifice that Nate has made,” Carter told the family.

The outpouring from the community seemed to come from every direction as more than 300 people gathered to pay their respects. The Champaign police and sheriff’s departments were in full dress and saluted Moore as six sharply dressed U.S. Marines carried Moore’s flag-draped casket past them and into the awaiting hearse.

Two of the six Marines were Keybeck Song and Lucas Nunds, some of Moore’s best friends. Song and Nunds knew Moore since the three were in the first grade together.

Moore’s friends described him as a natural-born leader, a man who always put others before himself and someone who cared a great deal for the opportunity to serve his country.

“Nate always knew what he wanted to do, he wanted to go to Lincoln’s Challenge (Academy), he wanted to be a Marine, he wanted to be in the infantry,” Nunds said.

Nunds said Moore was very eager to serve his country and felt that a tour in Iraq was the best way to do it. Moore had to work hard to get deployed to Iraq, but he finally got to go. When Moore got to Iraq, he didn’t want to leave right away, Nunds said.

“Moore was almost done with his contract, but instead of coming home he gave up his seat on the airplane to someone else,” Nunds said. “That’s where his friends were. That’s where he wanted to be.”

Song praised Moore for his abilities and his friendship. He described his best memories around the martial arts that he and Moore participated in together for several years.

“He was very goal-oriented. He was a leader. He was the first to do everything. He wasn’t the type of guy that talked about stuff, he would do it,” Song said.

Moore was described by his uncle, Richard Stewart, as a great kid growing up, but he said Moore’s life turned around when he joined Lincoln’s Challenge Academy in Rantoul, Ill.

Moore’s girlfriend Mariel Rivera, who is stationed in Hawaii with the Air Force, described her boyfriend as the best man she ever knew. She met him in Christmas 2003 through a mutual friend. She said Moore would constantly ask her for pictures while he was deployed.

“He was feeling down in October, in Fallujah,” she said.

But after looking at the happy pictures she sent him, Rivera said Moore called her to say he felt better.

As the hearse left the church, police guided the convoy through a crowd of Champaign citizens and firefighters. Two firefighter ladder companies parked their trucks on either side of the road with their ladders criss-crossed directly over the street where the motorcade passed through. Between the ladders hung an enormous American flag.

“We’re here to pay our respects,” said Lt. John Hocking from Rescue 18 in Champaign.

After passing under the American flag, the motorcade escorted the hearse down U.S. 45 to Mattoon. As the procession headed south, local police, most of whom volunteered on their day off, provided the motorcade until it left their jurisdiction.

When the hearse and the dozens of cars reached the cemetery in Mattoon, Moore’s casket was brought out of the hearse and laid down on a catafalque near his family. Marines, military veterans, students of Lincoln’s Challenge Academy and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were assembled in various formations around the burial sight. As a man waved a large American flag in the wind and bagpipes played, a minister began to give his words of comfort.

“There are five billion people in this world. There are 300 million people on this continent. There are only a few million warriors, and your son was one of them,” said the minister to Moore’s family.

When the minister concluded his words, a nearby formation of Marines fired three volleys of seven shots from their rifles. A nearby Marine bugler played “Taps.” The Marines who stood guard over Moore’s casket in the previous days folded the flag that draped his coffin into a triangle. The flag was handed to Moore’s mother, Amber.

As the bagpipes continued to play, the sound slowly faded as the musician walked off the field. The gathering around Moore’s coffin watched and wept. Moore’s mother clutched the triangle-shaped flag as she sat down and cried.