As Captain Nathan McHone's hearse circled the grounds of his alma mater, the 1,800 students of Crystal Lake South High School stood in silence and reflected on all that McHone gave.
"It makes me proud and obviously sad as well, but it makes it real," said McHone's former teacher Bill Altmann. "It's part of, I guess, accepting the reality of it."
The marine pilot was one of six service members killed last week when his helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.
This morning, the plane carrying McHone's body arrived at DuPage Airport before police and emergency vehicles escorted his hearse to his native Crystal Lake.
"He was only 29, and to make it to that level, to be a captain in the military and to be flying helicopters is awesome," said McHone's former running coach Richard Eschman.
As the procession traveled along Randall Road a line of firefighters stood at attention beneath the stars and stripes McHone had vowed to defend.
Ross Ryan went to high school with McHone and ran cross country with the all-conference standout.
"Just based on his work ethic it doesn't surprise me how far he ended up with the military," Ryan said. "One thing I remember is walking into a classroom, seeing him out with a bunch of buddies. Whenever you said, 'Hey Nate, how are you doing?' He always had this huge smile and it just made you feel good as a person."
As the procession arrived at the high school there were tears and salutes.
Sixteen-year-old Erik Olsen, a member of the Civil Air Patrol, plans to join the military after high school to be a pilot, just like McHone.
"I'm just thankful for his duty and what he gave," Olsen said. "I'm also thankful for everyone who's still over there."
"We have to do the best we can to honor him because he truly was an outstanding person," Altmann said.