FAIRBANKS - Saturday would have been Cpl. Jason Karella's 21st birthday.
But instead of celebrating, the Karella family is mourning, having just laid the young Marine to rest Friday.
Karella, who had already served a tour in Afghanistan, was killed in a vehicle accident Oct. 9 in Afghanistan's Farah province while with the California-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
Hundreds of friends, family and members of the armed services came to Fairhill Community Church to pay their last respects.
"My son was proud of what he stood for," said Karella's father, Kevin, his voice cracking with emotion. "He had a fiancee named Beth and he said to me, 'Dad, I don't have to worry about Beth getting blown up in a market over there because we're keeping them busy here."'
Karella was born in Fairbanks and split his teen years between the Interior and Anchorage. He attended Bartlett High School in Anchorage and graduated through the Alaska Military Youth Academy Challenge Program.
"I remember thinking as gentle a guy as he was, I was going to be worried about him," his cousin Scott Stout, now serving in Afghanistan, wrote in a eulogy read by his wife, Jacqueline.
Karella grew up in a strong military family, with his father a former chief warrant officer in the Army, and his brother Josh also having served in Iraq.
Marines recognized Karella for his incredible strength, which he used to carry large amounts of ammunition with him in the battlefield. They referred to him as "the walking ammo supply point" and "the walking arsenal." Well-respected among his peers, he was awaiting a promotion to sergeant at the time of his death.
He didn't always seem to be destined for those titles, however, as family members remembered him Friday as rather quiet and overweight child. But that image disappeared after he graduated from boot camp in late 2005.
"You can't imagine what a metamorphosis it was to see him like that," his brother, Josh, said. "It was the first time he ever beat me at arm wrestling."