ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Spring is coming to St. Anne. The small Midwestern town sits amidst the farm fields of central Illinois. But instead of celebrating the rites of spring, the town is mourning the loss of one of its brightest and most promising young men -- 30-year-old Marine Captain Ryan Beaupre was one of the first to fall in Iraq, killed when the helicopter he was piloting crashed in the opening hours of the war.
SPOKESMAN: He was at the same time both the boy next door and a courageous war hero, and they both lay on his shoulders comfortably.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The town that nurtured the fallen marine hasn't changed much since young Ryan bicycled its streets and sat in the barber's chair at the Clip and Curl on Main Street. The news of Beaupre's death hit the town hard.
THONDA TURNER, Hair Stylist: It was pretty devastating because we knew him, you know, and you just couldn't believe that some of the first deaths that happened over there actually hit our little town, because we are so small.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Serving one's country has always been taken seriously here. Besides Beaupre, there are eight others from this town of thirteen hundred now on active duty in Iraq. And despite the loss of Beaupre, support for the war remains strong.
MARY BLUM, Restaurant Owner: We support our men and women that are over there. There's dads, there's kids, former employees, friends, cousins, and we support what they're doing. I think it's important to support your country, protect yourselves from the bad people.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Support for the Beaupre family has also been overwhelming. More than 1,000 people came to offer comfort and support at the wake. That's just the way it is in a small town, says the mayor.
RON GRUBBS, Mayor, St. Anne: They had to call the local grocery store and say, "don't send any more food," you know. And then they called the florist and said, "hey, stop the flowers," you know. They were just inundated with response, and people really care -- no other motivation-- they care.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The wake was held in the grade school Ryan attended. Back then he was a red-headed kid who loved sports, starred on the speech team, and led his eighth grade class. Today the school's walls are filled with tributes to the former student, now called a hero. By the time he attended Bishop McNamara High School in nearby Kankakee, his principal says the values that shaped him were already evident.
JIM LAURENTI, School Principal: The values of honesty, integrity, and I guess I would just really focus on his honesty. It was admirable in such a young person. It took very little for us to develop. It was already embedded fairly strongly, so I think those qualities, as you work with teenagers, that quite impress you, and they did with him.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Fifteenth out of a class of one hundred thirty-nine, Ryan excelled in both academics and athletics, leading his relay team to a state championship. His track coach says he was a product of both his family and his town.
KEN KLIPP, Track Coach: St. Anne's is a really close- knit community and small town. Growing up a lot of people say he was the boy next door, you know. He was "Opie," he was your hometown kid.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The next step for Ryan was Illinois Wesleyan University in nearby Bloomington, Illinois. ( Cheers and applause )
SPOKESPERSON: Ryan Beaupre.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: He graduated with honors in 1995. It was his contagious smile that Ryan's college roommate and fraternity brother will remember about him. That and the shared values of two small town boys.
DR. MICHAEL HOWARD, College Friend: Coming from a small town myself, I just really can identify with him. You know all of your friends, you know your neighbors. Your neighbors are your friends, your family, and there's really no secrets. You can just be honest and you can help somebody out on a moment's notice whenever needed.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: He joined the corporate world after graduation, but left it for the marines, telling his parents serving his country meant a more meaningful and fulfilling life. His death has brought this small town closer together, but has also left it shaken.
RON GRUBBS: I think it's made us more aware, you know, that this is real and that we hope... hopefully not, but we might be able to expect more, and I think it just... everybody would like to see it finished. I don't necessarily mean quick, but I think finish and get on with it. I think it's made us aware, much more aware than if you just read it in the paper about other tragedies in other families.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: On Thursday, nearly the entire town, plus family and friends from around the world, came to the Catholic Church in St. Anne where he had been baptized and confirmed, to help say good-bye to Ryan Beaupre. The tall marine at Nicole Beaupre's side had trained with Beaupre at Camp Pendleton in California and was in the air behind him the day the sea knight helicopter went down. He then took on the sad assignment of bringing his friend home.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Why did you want to come home with him?
CAPT. JOHN WASCHER, U.S. Marine Corps: Because it was an honor, and because he would have done it for me.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: As the rituals of laying a loved one to rest continued, the overwhelming support from St. Anne and elsewhere could only slightly ease the pain of losing a son.