By Tom Dalton
SALEM — On a cold Saturday a week before Christmas, this city was draped in red, white, blue — and yellow — to pay its final respects to Army Sgt. James Ayube II, who was killed 12 days ago by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.
There were American flags and yellow ribbons all the way from St. James Church on Federal Street, where the funeral was held, to Salem Willows, where neighbors huddled in the cold as the procession passed.
A large group of Boy Scouts stood in front of Wesley United Methodist Church on North Street, where Ayube attended Scout meetings, waving flags as the long funeral procession bearing the solider's body wound its way through the city.
The were hundreds of mourners from Salem, but many others from out of state and other towns. One elderly woman waited along Derby Street in a wheelchair; two men stood on a rooftop near Harmony Grove Cemetery; and one veteran was a lone sentry on Memorial Drive.
Gina Atwood and her son Alex, 3, waited on the front steps of their Derby Street home under U.S. and Marine Corps flags.
"We usually take them down in the winter, but I put them back up for today," said Atwood, 36, whose husband served in Pakistan and Afghanistan. "This kind of hits close to home."
The Fire Department draped its Derby Street headquarters and a former station on Fort Avenue in giant American flags. The department hung another huge flag from the extended ladders of two trucks that formed an arch at the bottom of the North Street overpass.
One of the largest crowds greeted the family at Harmony Grove Cemetery, where Ayube's casket was carried to the grave site by an Army honor guard.
"No parent should have to go through this, no wife, no child," said Steve Keenan, 60, a retired Somerville firefighter who stood near the cemetery gate with his fractured leg in a plastic boot. "We owe him and his comrades more than we can ever pay back."
On the other side of the cemetery entrance, Alison Richards, 33, shielded her 3-month-old son, Daniel, from the cold inside a front baby carrier that was covered with a Marine Corps flag.
"We're a military family — it's important," said Richards of Derry, N.H., who was with her sister, Courtney Lovely of Salem, who also had a baby in a carrier.
Tom Burke of Salem, whose son went to school with Ayube, brought a large American flag from home that his family was given when his father, a World War II veteran, died more than 25 years ago.
"It's just to show that people care," said Burke, a Lynn teacher. "Look at all the Scouts down here. It's a community effort."
During the funeral service inside a packed St. James Church, Ayube, a 25-year-old senior combat medic in the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, was remembered as a loving son, husband and brother who joined the military out of a sense of duty and hope.
"All he wanted to do, deep down, was to fix the world and make everyone happy," his 17-year-old sister Ashleigh said in a eulogy.
In a light moment, the teenager lovingly remembered her older brother as an "accident-prone goon" who once singed his wife's hair while playing with a lighter, before offering up a "goofy" apology.
The stairway leading into St. James Church was lined with honor guards from the Police Department, Fire Department, Salem High Marine Corps Junior ROTC, and veterans organizations.
About 50 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a citizen motorcycle group that attends veterans funerals from Iraq and Afghanistan, Rolling Thunder, a POW/MIA activist group, and the North Shore Riders Motorcycle Club stood along the church stairway holding flags.
Juliet Carty, 32, of Salem was across the street from St. James all alone holding three small flags.
"I just felt it was important to show support for somebody fighting for us overseas," she said. "It's truly sad ... I can't imagine what (his family) is going through."
"I'm the widow of a Marine," Grace Washburn of The Patriot Guard said outside the church. "I just want to do what I can for our fallen brothers and sisters and give them the respect they deserve for making the ultimate sacrifice."
A family friend, the Rev. Walter Waldron of St. Patrick's Church in Roxbury, was chief celebrant at the Mass. He was assisted by the Rev. John Sheridan of St. James, the Rev. Timothy Murphy of Immaculate Conception, and Norman LaPointe, a deacon at St. James.
Waldron described Ayube as a young man who fought evil with the greatest love a man can give, laying down his life for others.
"Jesus did it," Waldron said, "and James, in imitation of Him, did it. He laid down his life for his family, his friends and our country ... so that evil wouldn't win."
Ayube, who had previously done a tour of duty in Iraq, also was eulogized by Army Brig. Gen. Tim Trainor of West Point.
Trainor, who posthumously awarded Ayube the Bronze Star Medal on Friday, said the soldier posted the following quote on his Facebook page: "How can you come to know yourself? Never by thinking; always by doing ..."
"James came to know himself by performing his duty as a soldier, a loving son and a husband," the general said.
He said Ayube, a 2003 Salem High graduate, was "too young to have experienced all of life, but old enough to know he wanted to serve his country ..."
Ayube was buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery under a large white birch tree to the sounds of three rifle volleys, taps and final prayers.
Trainor presented American flags to Ayube's mother, Christina, who sat in a chair by the grave, and to Ayube's wife of two years, Lauren.
As the service ended, the young widow stood in dappled sunlight clutching the flag in her arms.