AUGUSTA – Under overcast skies Friday morning, Army Spc. Wade A. Slack of Waterville was returned home to Maine.

Slack, 21, died of wounds he sustained May 6 in Jaghatu, Afghanistan, after insurgents attacked his 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 in Washington state.

At 9:14 a.m. Friday at the Augusta State Airport, a Falcon 20 plane from Kalitta Charters touched down on the runway on schedule, then rolled toward a crowd at Gate 2.

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

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 there, as were scores of guardsmen and 21 members of the Patriot Guard Riders and their motorcycles.

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

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

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

In dress-blue uniforms, six members of the Maine Honor Guard marched in unison across the tarmac to the coffin, which had been placed on 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 in camouflage fatigues lined up on both sides of Gate 2 and saluted the hearse as it passed.

And so the motorcade left. Family members followed 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. The coffin was unloaded by Maine Honor Guard members and carried up the steps of the funeral home.

Patriot Guard Riders, police, family members 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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