AUGUSTA — Under overcast skies this morning, Spc. Wade A. Slack was returned home to Maine.

Slack, 21, of Waterville, died of wounds sustained May 6 in Jaghatu, Afghanistan, after insurgents attacked his Army unit using indirect fire. Slack, who specialized in disarming explosives, was assigned to the 707th Ordnance Company, 3rd Ordnance Battalion, of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

At 9:14 a.m. this morning at the Augusta State Airport, a Falcon 20 plane of Kalitta Charters touched down on the runway on schedule, and rolled toward a crowd gathered at gate 2.

Slack’s family — including mother Mary Slack, father Alan Slack and stepmother Rose Slack and many others — were gathered together on the tarmac in a line, watching with hands clasped together and some with cameras raised.

Also at the airport as escorts were Waterville police, including Deputy Chief Charles Rumsey, Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain, and officers from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. Maj. Gen. John W. Libby of the Maine National Guard was also there, as were scores of guardsmen, and 21 members of the Patriot Guard Riders and their motorcycles.

The plane came to a rest and its door slowly opened. Rail supports were placed down from the door to the tarmac and a platform on wheels, draped in black cloth, was lowered.

A couple of guardsmen walked across the tarmac to the plane, including Capt. Earl Weigelt, a Maine National Guard chaplain. Also standing by the plane was Sgt. James Cribbett, who served with Slack in Afghanistan and was a good friend. Cribbett also accompanied Slack’s remains on the flight from Afghanistan to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware a week ago.

After several minutes, the brown coffin emerged from inside the plane, wrapped with an American flag.

Guardsmen, all standing at attention, raised their hands in salute.

Weigelt read aloud from Psalm 23, saying in part: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside quiet waters; he restores my soul … Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your shepherd’s rod and staff, protect me …”

And in conclusion: “Amen.”

In dress-blue uniforms, six members of the Maine Honor Guard marched in unison across the tarmac and to the coffin, which had been placed on top of the platform. Family members were ushered closer to the plane. The guardsmen, three on each side, lifted the coffin and carried it to the waiting hearse as all other guardsmen stood at attention.

At 9:31 a.m., the Patriot Guard Riders returned to the parking lot and fired up their motorcycles, which were adorned with large American flags. Twenty guardsmen dressed in camouflage fatigues lined up on both sides of gate 2 and saluted the hearse as it drove past the gate and into the parking lot.

And so the motorcade left: family members followed behind in their cars and police cruisers and motorcycles followed them, onto Western Avenue, up Interstate 95 to Waterville, and down Kennedy Memorial Drive and Silver Street.

At the Veilleux Funeral Home, just before 10:30 a.m., the motorcade arrived. Waterville police had closed that portion of Elm Street to traffic. The coffin was unloaded by the Maine Honor Guard members and carried up the steps of the funeral home.

Patriot Guard Riders, police, family and some onlookers watched as Slack’s coffin was brought inside.

Don Duplessis, Kennebec County ride captain of the Patriot Guard Riders, said he had spoken with some family members and offered the group’s support beyond the escort.

“We’re always there for the families; it’s more than an escort. We do it to honor the fallen heroes,” Duplessis said. “We take every one of these to heart.”

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