WATERVILLE – Freezing rain pelted the soldiers as they climbed a steep mountain in Afghanistan.
When they reached the top, Spc. Wade A. Slack turned and looked at his good friend, Sgt. James Cribbett.
“This wasn’t in the brochure,” Slack said to him.
Laughter arose from hundreds of people sitting in pews Sunday afternoon in the Blessed Hope Advent Christian Church on Pleasant Street as Cribbett recounted that tale and other memories of his fallen friend.
“He was an incredible soldier, an amazing friend and very dear brother to all of us. He gave of himself without ever asking for anything in return. I don’t think I ever once heard him complain about the job,” Cribbett said. “He was always there to brighten our day, every day.”
With warm sunshine illuminating the church’s stained-glass windows, hundreds gathered to honor Slack, 21, who grew up in the city and graduated from Waterville Senior High School in 2007.
He died May 6 of wounds suffered from indirect fire in Jaghatu, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his Army unit. Slack, who specialized in disarming explosives, was assigned to the 707th Ordnance Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion, from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
In the church lobby, a photo collage showed Slack’s progression from birth, to playful youngster who played Little League baseball, to more recent pictures of him in camouflage fatigues. On a nearby table, a photo showed Slack holding a small dog, and nearby were a partially used dog bone and a collar with dog tags that read: “Boomer, 707th EOD, US Army, Bomb Dog.”
During Sunday’s funeral, Slack’s family — including mother Mary Slack, father Alan Slack, stepmother Rose Slack and his siblings — was presented with many federal and state awards and medals on his behalf. Federal awards included the Combat Action Badge, the NATO medal, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
In attendance were Gov. John Baldacci, who presented the Maine Gold Star Award and the State House flag; U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, and numerous city officials, Maine Army National Guard officers and community members.
In speeches at a lectern overlooking Slack’s flag-draped casket, family members and military officials recalled the hardworking, brave man who always put others before himself and loved his extended family. Slack was a cheerful practical joker who knew how to have a good time, speakers said, and yet he was also wise beyond his years, a confidante for many and a “glue” for his family.
Maj. Gen. John Libby of the Maine Army National Guard described Slack as the personification of a warrior, which he described as a “soldier with a heart,” and said Slack exemplified the warrior’s creed by being a team member who put the mission first and never quit.
Slack’s stepmother, Rose Slack, talked about celebrating all that he “gifted to us” by touching people’s hearts and sharing the importance of family and fun.
“I was in awe about how much a 21-year-old boy shared with everyone,” she said. “He’ll always be teaching all of us. His spirit still stays with all of us.”
Meghan, his sister, confided a family “secret” that “Wade was pretty much everyone’s favorite,” eliciting laughter from the audience. “He was sweet and smart and listened to all of our problems,” she said.
For his 20th birthday, while he was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., Slack insisted that the family get together for dinner even though he couldn’t be there himself, Meghan Slack said. “That was Wade. He made people feel special and loved.”
Jonathan Slack said he had “a profound trust” in his brother, while Andrew Slack said he lost a close friend and co-worker who “couldn’t have been a better brother.”
Jesse Slack recalled a time when he was 16 and driving his 8-year-old brother Wade back from an overnight Cub Scout trip. He said he was driving 50 mph and saw a turn too late. His father’s van careened off the road and into the woods. Shaken and sobbing, he said he looked over at his brother, who announced: “That was fun!”
“At 8 years old, in uniform, and already fearless,” Jesse Slack said.
In a statement read by Capt. Earl Weigelt, a Maine Army National Guard chaplain, sister Lauren said Slack “was like glue in our family” and a “true go-getter” who “became Army strong in 2007, but he was strong and determined long before that.”
Weigelt, reading Bible verses selected by Slack’s mother, Mary, said in part: “For God so loved the world he gave his only son.”
“Heroes put their lives on the line,” Weigelt said in a closing address. “Spc. Wade Alan Slack was such a hero,” who died while on a mission to disarm an explosive and save the lives of others, making him also “an instrument of peace.”
“So in a very special way,” Weigelt said, “Spc. Wade Slack was a warrior of warriors.”