A spotlight created by the sun beaming through several stained glass panels rested on the flag-draped casket of Spc. Mark Andre Harding.
The 21-year-old soldier from Grove, was remembered Thursday at his memorial service for his smile and sense of humor.
Harding was riding in a convoy in Iraq behind a vehicle that was hit by a roadside bomb.
He died Friday at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa from cranial injury complications. Although his death has not been officially declared service-related, he had been treated for a traumatic brain injury while in the Army, according to a veteran’s affairs spokesman.
An overflowing crowd of more than 200 family and friends filled First Baptist Church in South West City, just across the Oklahoma state line in far southwest Missouri, about 16 miles from Grove.
Harding, who was adopted at an early age, grew up in the rural Grove area and graduated from Thunderbird Youth Academy in Pryor, in 2006. Friends said he attended Victory Road Christian School before his graduation.
“Mark was a hero and an inspiration to so many people,” said the Rev. Randy Dyer.
A pair of black polished boots, along with military photographs and flowers surrounded Harding’s casket. He had just finished serving a 14-month tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 101st Airborne, 2nd Battalion.
While in Iraq, he pulled his friend, Spc. Micheal Phillips, out of a Humvee that hit a roadside bomb near Baghdad on Feb. 24, 2008. Phillips died in Harding’s arms.
“Mark’s earthly tent gave out,” Dyer said. “But one of God’s children has come home.”
Harding had rededicated his life and seldom missed any church services, Dyer said. “He affected so many people, especially the young people,” Dyer said. Harding found comfort in the biblical story where Jacob wrestled with an angel, said the Rev. Gene Schmeling.
The story was so important that Harding had the passage where scripture says, “I have seen God face to face” underlined in his Bible, he said.
“Mark will be missed but only for a short time,” Schmeling said. “We will see Mark again.”
Motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard escorted the hearse to nearby Polson Cemetery, where a bugler played taps and the flag over his coffin was folded and presented to his family.
Harding was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, an Army Service Ribbon, an Overseas Service Ribbon, and a Combat Infantryman Badge.
He is survived by his parents Bill and Angelina Harding Jr.; brothers Will and Duane Harding; sisters Ashley Harding, Amanda Harding and Karissa Harding; grandparents Bill and Mary Harding Sr., Ricardo and Bebe Vigo and Audrey Boylen.