ARLINGTON, Va. -- Marine Corporal Stephen R. Bixler of Suffield, Conn., made it clear to his parents that he wanted to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery if he was killed in Iraq.
Family, friends, and other mourners found themselves fulfilling that wish yesterday as they gathered in a corner of the cemetery where the neatly tended, rolling lawns are marked by row after row of simple, white marble headstones.
Corporal Bixler, 20, who died May 4 in combat in Al Anbar province, was buried with military honors.
''He was a quiet, respectful person," said longtime family friend Kevin Goff after the burial. ''He grew up knowing from an early age that he wanted to be a soldier. It was part of Stephen."
Goff said Corporal Bixler asked his parents, Richard and Linda, to bury him at Arlington if anything happened to him in Iraq.
''He really is where he wanted to be, in Arlington," Goff said. ''He is with his buddies who have given so much for freedom."
Six Marines in dress uniforms carefully removed the flag-covered casket from the hearse and carried it to the grave site amid a sudden rain shower. After a eulogy, a seven-member Marine guard fired three shots.
A Marine presented Corporal Bixler's parents with the American flag that had covered his casket.
Corporal Bixler served in the Second Reconnaissance Battalion, Second Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq, Goff said.
Corporal Bixler joined the Marines after graduating from Suffield High School in 2003. He was an Eagle Scout and a runner.
He was the 233d person killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington.
Goff said Corporal Bixler was proud to serve in Iraq, where he believed he was making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis struggling to rebuild their country.
''He'd say, 'Those people really need us over there,' " Goff recalled. ''You'd look into his eyes and the message was very clear. We knew he was making a difference in people's lives over there."
A hearse bearing Corporal Bixler's casket traveled from Connecticut to the cemetery with police escorts from various cities and states. Family and friends were overwhelmed by the many salutes along the way from average citizens, many of them stuck in traffic because of the motorcade, said Goff.
''It was a true American tribute," said Goff.