Marine Corps 1st Sgt. Tim Henshaw flew more than 17 hours from Japan to attend Wednesday's Mass of Christian Burial for his friend, Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick.
Henshaw was among more than 200 people who came Christ the King Catholic Church in Snyder to mourn Kenefick, who, with three other Marines, was killed last week in an ambush while traveling to a remote, heavily fortified Afghan village.
But Henshaw's memory of his friend differed from many others.
"Aaron replaced my team in Afghanistan. We welcomed him when he came over," the 6-foot, 5-inch Marine said, opening up his massive arms as if to reach out and hug the memory of his fallen comrade. "We showed him around the area of operations."
Kenefick and other members of his 21-member team had arrived in Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border, Aug. 3 after four months of training.
"He was excited to be there. He was enthusiastic. He wanted to help the Afghan people," said Henshaw, his face filled with grief, as he stood in the back of the crowded church waiting for the Mass to start. "He was my friend. He was a hero."
The word hero was repeated throughout the hourlong Mass.
Kenefick's gray and chrome coffin was placed in front of the same altar at which, as a boy, he had received his first Communion and later, as a teenager, the sacrament of confirmation.
Recalling the writings of St. Paul the Apostle, the Rev. John R. Gaglione said, "Aaron, you have finished the race, and even though the race was short, you're a winner."
When the 30-year-old Kenefick made the ultimate sacrifice, the priest added, Jesus was there to greet him. "Jesus welcomed him," Gaglione said. "He said, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Now inherit the kingdom of heaven.' "
Kenefick's death, the priest pointed out, should serve as a vivid reminder that men and women are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect the United States.
"It takes an event like this to remember how many of these young men and women are still in harm's way . . . to maintain the freedom we enjoy," he said. "May we never forget freedom is not free."
Kenefick also was eulogized by his sisters, Jade Myszka and Jacquelyn Tiftickjian, who remembered him as a kind and loving big brother.
After they helped him deliver newspapers on his "endless" route in
Williamsville, they said, he would always take them to a pancake restaurant for breakfast as a reward.
The sisters also recalled that during his last visit to Western New York, they again wound up at the pancake restaurant, where he told them he loved them.
"And we believed him," the sisters said in unison.
Kerry Crosby, Kenefick's girlfriend, recalled they had a crush on each other in high school and eventually had gotten back together.
"Fourteen years later, our first conversation lasted six hours," Crosby said, recalling how he had told her he wasn't "the perfect man" but that he would try his best to please her.
Placing her right hand on her heart, Crosby said, "Aaron, you're in my heart. Rest in peace, my love. You're in God's hands."
Among the last to offer a remembrance was Marine Staff Sgt. Nick Romanak, who described Kenefick as his best friend. He said that the fallen gunnery sergeant was "the best man we've ever known" and that he had died "with dignity and respect."