In more than 20 years of doing funerals, Father Kevin Mueller said this was the first he had done for someone who died so that he could live as he pleased.
"I'm afraid most of us who are not in the military take that freedom for granted," Father Mueller said to the crowd as he began the funeral services for Staff Sgt. Brandon Robert Pepper at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church on Friday morning.
"The freedom I have every day is a gift that has been given to me because of men and women who choose to serve their country," he said.
Pepper, 31, was killed when his patrol came under attack from insurgents in Ghazni Province in Afghanistan on Saturday, July 21.
A Baltimore native, Pepper lived in York County before entering active duty in 2008 and attending Infantry Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benning, Ga.
In October 2009, he graduated from Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course at Fort Bragg and completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2011.
He was assigned to the 4th Batallion, 3rd Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C. as a communications sergeant.
"He was a great man. Very honorable and very fun to be around. He is my best friend," said his younger brother, Staff Sgt. Derek Pepper, who also serves in the Army Special Forces.
Staff Sgt. Derek Pepper said that his older brother's example encouraged him to join the military.
"He was a warrior, and he showed me what being a warrior was all about," Derek Pepper said.
The two brothers were serving in Afghanistan at the same time, but were not together.
This past Christmas they visited their cousins in Charleston, S.C., before they left on their deployments.
"We had a lot of fun," said their cousin, Tara Reynolds. "I used to babysit him when he was little. He was very fun-loving."
Pepper was an Eagle Scout, and several young boys in their Scout uniforms sat in the audience to pay their respects to him on Friday.
He was a huge Baltimore Ravens fan and loved to play lacrosse, his cousin said.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Pepper was the second son of John and Geraldine Pepper. In addition to Derek he had two other brothers - Nicholas and John.
Between all of the boys, their parents never had to carry groceries or anything else because they were brought up to be such gentleman, said their aunt, Bernadette Baker, of Northampton County, Pa.
Brandon was incredibly polite, she said. He did not like to have his pictures taken and probably would have been annoyed by all of the pictures on display at his funeral, she said.
"He had wanted to be in the Special Forces for many years and was proud to be a part of it," Baker said. "He died doing what he loved, and that's what we can be thankful for."
Eight of his fellow men from the 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, N.C., served as pallbearers, carrying his casket to the front of the church.
An organist and soloist performed "Amazing Grace" and "Wind Beneath My Wings" and portions of scripture from First Corinthians and Revelation were read aloud.
Father Mueller delivered the eulogy, closing with a reminder to Pepper's parents that life does not end, it simply changes, and Pepper will still always be their son.
With that, Pepper's mother stood in front of her son's casket, speaking quietly and with great emotion as she told her son that he was her hero, that she loved him, and that he will always be missed.
Pepper will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday.
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