FREDERICK, Md. — Lance Cpl. Maung P. "Samuel" Htaik's parents weren't sure why their son wanted to join the U.S. Marine Corps. They tried to dissuade him, but he enlisted and was sent to Afghanistan several months ago to fight.
He was killed there Jan. 1, the first American war casualty of the year, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
On Saturday, at a church north of Frederick, Htaik (pronounced "Ty") was celebrated as an American hero, a young man of ingrained Christian faith and a treasured member of his family, his ethnic community and the military.
"To all who loved him," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said during the funeral service, "although we can never, ever make the pain go away, we hope that your burden might be lifted just ever so slightly by being aware of the love, the respect and the admiration we have for him and for the family that raised him."
Htaik's family was given his Purple Heart, an honor for those wounded or killed in action.
Htaik, 20, and his family moved to the Hagerstown area more than five years ago, according to his mother, Flory Shwe.
The family lived in Myanmar, or Burma, until Htaik was in second grade, according to the funeral program.
Flory Shwe said her husband, Hla Shwe, got a job as an engineer in Singapore. Eight years later, the rest of the family joined him there, according to the funeral program.
In 2002, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Frederick County, Md., where Samuel went to school.
The family moved to Washington County. Samuel switched to Smithsburg High School for his junior year and made the distinguished honor roll as a senior in 2008, the year he graduated.
His mother said Samuel had a strong will and a sharp mind. He never liked the easy path, preferring a challenge, which probably is why he ended up in the infantry, she said.
During occasional letters and phone calls home, he never complained about the bullets flying around him in Afghanistan, his mother said, but he reported that his boots were soaked and he could use a new pair.
Samuel Htaik was killed by an improvised explosive device while in Afghanistan's Helmand province, as part of the 10-year-old war known as Operation Enduring Freedom.
He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The crowd of more than 200 people at Frederick Christian Fellowship Church on Saturday included more than a dozen Marines and numerous Burmese people who knew Samuel's family.
Capt. Darryl Lamberth, a former Frederick resident, was both.
It was his last day before his deployment to Afghanistan. He said he's prepared, but Samuel's death is a reminder of reality.
A Marine in Samuel's platoon, Lance Cpl. Mark Dell of Arkansas, said during the funeral that Htaik made a strong first impression in Afghanistan in July.
Other Marines were fatigued during a grueling physical training exercise that day, but Htaik came charging by, carrying sand-filled ammunition cans "just as hard as he could go and never let up," Dell said.
Samuel gave a needed boost another time, while the unit mourned the death of one of their own. At around midnight, Htaik picked up an iPod and speakers, put on sunglasses, blasted hip hop music and danced, lifting his colleagues' spirits.
During an interview after the service, Dell said Htaik never talked specifically about why he enlisted, but his motivation was clear.
"He loved America," Dell said. "He loved being here and he really appreciated it."
Senior Pastor Alan Greijack of Gateway Ministries, to which Samuel belonged, told mourners that America is blessed.
"War is ugly. War is cruel. It's a monster," Greijack said. "But something more cruel than war is the loss of freedom. And many of you that were born in countries outside the United States know better than we (do). Some of you have lived under dictatorship. You know the loss of freedom. You know what limited freedom is."
Before the service, Samuel's father called his son disciplined, clean and quiet.
"He loved God," Hla Shwe said. "He trusted God a lot."
In a eulogy, Joseph Naing shared the belief of many mourners — that they'll see Samuel again in heaven.
He remembered Samuel as a friend who was more like a brother — someone who paid attention in church, liked to laugh on camping trips and didn't speak badly of others.
"When I heard you pass away," he said, struggling at times to continue, "it broke my heart. It made me realize how important you are to me."
"Even though this is just a temporary goodbye to my only brother here," Samuel's brother, Dan Yar, said, "it has been really hard and we do miss him a lot."
Samuel Htaik is scheduled to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Jan. 18. His family has arranged for buses to take people from Frederick County to the cemetery that day.