Muffled sobbing quickly followed the first melancholy notes of music as they rang out for Sgt. Sean M. Collins.
The fallen soldier’s father, Lt. Col. Patrick Collins (Ret.), grimaced as he fought back his own tears. He stood at attention by a casket while the bugle played taps, holding a final salute to the son he called a hero.
Sgt. Collins, 25, of Yelm died with five of his comrades Dec. 12 in a suicide attack on their combat outpost in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. He was the first South Sound service member since July to lose his life in Afghanistan or Iraq.
He was laid to rest today at the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, where hundreds of family members and friends gathered to pay respects.
The 2004 Yelm High School graduate volunteered for his last tour with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Ky. It was his third combat deployment in five years.
“My son was a hero,” said Patrick Collins, who served in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. “He could have stayed at Campbell. He had dwell time. He was a team leader and he wanted to go with his team.”
The funeral capped two days of events honoring the younger Collins. The family held a wake Tuesday where friends shared memories. A mass followed this morning at Yelm’s St. Columban Catholic church.
He was remembered as a dedicated soldier both by people who knew him growing up, and by some of the soldiers who served with him.
“Sean wanted to be in the Army since he was 3,” said his brother, Travis.
A caravan of mourners escorted by State Patrol officers stretched two miles as the Collins family left the mass and made its way to the cemetery. The outpouring touched Collins’ parents, who made time to speak with many guests after the ceremony.
“He was well-loved, and it was evident from the participation of this community,” said his mother, Linda Collins of Yelm.
Collins was the 84th Washington service member to die in Afghanistan. Twenty-two were killed there in 2010, a number that reflects the Pentagon’s decision to ramp up its presence in Afghanistan as well as the yearlong deployment of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
That Stryker brigade came home in July. It fought in the same part of Afghanistan as Collins, and it lost 37 soldiers.
Collins died when an insurgent drove a truckload of explosives into the outpost and brought down a wall. Some of Collins’ comrades survived being buried in rubble, they said at a Dec. 17 memorial in Afghanistan.
The day the soldiers died, Dec. 12, 2010, “will be a day no soldier in Bravo Company will ever forget,” said Capt. David Yu, according to a report from the memorial that appeared in Stars and Stripes. Yu was the commander of Collins’ company in the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Brig. Gen. Kurt Story presided over Sgt. Collins funeral today. A seven-soldier honor guard handles the services with precision. It fired a 21-gun salute, stood by while the bugler played Taps and folded the flag over Collins’ casket with sharp, tight angles.
Story handed the flag to Linda Collins, as well as a separate flag to Patrick Collins.
“Your son will be missed, but he will never be forgotten,” Story told them.
After the military honors, Collins’ family talked with guests while the cemetery prepared a grave for his ashes. The mourners made one more caravan to the site and gathered in a circle around the grave while his urn was laid into the ground.
Collins’ father, mother, brother and two sisters each placed a shovel of soil into the grave. They held each other as two cemetery employees packed the earth.
“I’d like to thank everyone for being here,” Patrick Collins told his extended family with sunlight breaking through cloudy skies. “Sean would be extremely proud.”