SMITHFIELD—The American flag hung perfectly from the casket, its stripes running precisely across the top, its stars hanging dramatically from the side.
A framed picture propped up nearby showed off Army Sgt. Michael Peek's boyish grin. Bright eyes hinted at a love for life. His military uniform proved a willingness to sacrifice.
"This was not the homecoming I had hoped for," Melanie Link whispered as she slowly walked through the small funeral home chapel.
Each step brought her closer to the casket. Her body shook as she moved. Tears fell faster as she got closer.
By the time she stopped, she could no longer hold herself up.
Dropping to her knees, Link cried out, "Why? Why?"
She reached out to hold onto the casket. She looked down, then back and forth between the flag and the picture.
"You promised you would come back to me," she murmured softly.
Twenty-three-year-old Peek was one of three soldiers killed March 3 when a roadside bomb exploded beside their Humvee in Iraq. Peek, assigned to the German-based 630th Military Police Company, was on his second deployment to Iraq.
His death came just two weeks before he was scheduled to depart Iraq for a two-week leave. He and Link were to be married March 26 in Germany.
Link had to cancel the wedding plans. She and her mother had to come to Isle of Wight County, where Peek's mother and stepfather -- Steve and Kathy Jordan -- live.
And on Friday, Link and Peek's family had to be at Colonial Funeral Home in Smithfield when a silver hearse arrived from Dover Air Force Base, Del., carrying Peek's body.
Six soldiers from Fort Eustis waited for the hearse to arrive. They marched with precision to the vehicle, snapping to attention as the door opened.
As they turned to face Peek's flag-draped casket, they raised their hands in salute.
Then carefully, they pulled the casket from the hearse and marched it past the family.
"You're home. You're home. You're home," Link muttered as she watched the usually private ceremony of delivering the body of a man killed in the line of duty.
Steve Jordan reached out and held Kathy Jordan. Peek's brother, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Peek, hung his head and leaned on his wife, Micah.
And when the casket was placed at the front of the chapel, they wept together.
Moments later, the family started the somber walk to the casket's side.