Soldiers in crisp uniforms waited silently on the tarmac Wednesday evening. One of their brothers was returning home, and they would carry him with honor to the hearse.
The silver casket bearing the body of Marine Dion James Stephenson rolled into their hands. Airport workers, reporters and cameramen stood quiet as the pallbearers saluted their 22-year-old compatriot. Then the Marines grasped the coffin in unison and lifted it.The hushed cadence of a sergeant moved the honor guard forward. Nearby, Lance Cpl. Shaun James Stephenson, 19, the slain soldier's younger brother, looked on silently, perhaps worn out by the journey from his post in the Middle East.
With a final slow salute, the honor guard placed the flag-draped casket into the hearse. The younger Stephenson sat in the hearse's front seat and put his hands to his face. His brother's Navy friend joined him.
The crowd remained standing solemnly as the honor guard marched away and the hearse left the tarmac. A trusted friend, brother and soldier was home.
Lance Cpl. Stephenson was the first Utahn to die in combat during the gulf war. He was killed Jan. 30 in the Marines' battle to recapture the town of Khafji, Saudi Arabia.
First reports indicated Stephenson was killed after a column of Iraqi tanks approached the town with their turrets reversed, signaling surrender. Later reports indicated the Marine was killed by friendly fire.
But the latest reports indicate friendly fire did not claim the life of the first Utahn killed in ground fighting."We got a list of names of the Marines who were killed by friendly fire, and he wasn't on it," Shaun said Thursday of his elder brother. "It's probably the best news we have had."
Eight soldiers were killed by friendly fire while four others were killed by Iraqis in Soviet-built T-54 or T-55 tanks, Shaun said. "It will make it a little easier if it wasn't friendly fire."
The Iraqi vehicles look much like American armored vehicles in the dark. "And when you see those pilots going over us at 600 mph it's hard to tell when they've got vehicles that look just like yours," Shaun said.
Members of the Stephenson family are still hoping for a more conclusive report about the circumstances of the battle as they mend their feelings over the loss.
"I've known for about five days now. I was real sad and mad those first few days. It's not nice to say that I'm over it, but I'm over the sad part," Shaun said. "I want to get back and do my job. If it was my decision I'd be going back."
Shaun has 15 days of emergency military leave that begins after the Monday funeral. Because he is now the family's sole surviving son, the family has a say in whether he goes back.
Shaun and his mother stayed up all night talking after Shaun arrived with Dion's body Wednesday night. "I probably won't be going back. I'll stick with what my mom and dad want me to do," he said after the all-night reunion at home.
A funeral Mass for Dion will be held Monday at noon in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple. A vigil service will be Sunday at 8 p.m. at St. Olaf's Catholic Church, 1800 S. Orchard Drive, Bountiful. Friends may call Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m. at St. Olaf's.
Stephenson will be buried with full military honors at Bountiful City Cemetery.