RINGGOLD, Ga. - Past Battlefield Parkway, past the hundreds of cars, people and flags on the side of the road, a casket rested on a bier by an open grave.
Soldiers, Marines, family members and friends of Sgt. Ed Koehler gathered under gloomy clouds Saturday in Ringgold, Ga., to pay final respects and say goodbye.
Koehler, who served in the Marine Corps from 1982 to 1988 and then enlisted with the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1997, was killed by a roadside bomb July 18 outside Bagram, Afghanistan, where he was transporting supplies.
At the funeral home earlier, pastor Randy Harden of the Cowboy Church of LaFayette, Ga., pointed to Koehler's casket.
"Ed's not there," Harden said. "To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. This should be a day of rejoicing."
Ed Koehler's wife, Cheryl, spent the past week talking to friends, family and reporters about her husband.
He had moved to Ringgold three few years ago after meeting the woman he would marry in September 2009.
When they met on April 21, 2008, he was already serving in the Pennsylvania National Guard. She'd been married before and didn't expect to find love again.
He was from Pennsylvania, she was from the South. He ate pork and sauerkraut. She ate ham and black-eyed peas. Eventually, he saw the merits of Southern comfort and started asking her to cook "those fried green things," meaning okra.
She had a black Honda VTX 1300. He rode behind her once. Then he bought the identical bike - but purple - and got a motorcycle license.
Their courtship involved dirt-track races, cooking off a portable stove at rest stops and riding their motorcycles across the country.
In the National Guard, he was a truck driver, so it made sense that when he was home the two of them would earn money by driving a truck together for Crowe Transportation.
Even though he lived in Ringgold, he didn't transfer from his National Guard battalion, the 131st Transportation Company. Instead he drove to Pennsylvania for monthly drills.
With his unit, Koehler was known as a prankster who kept people laughing.
He and Cheryl spoke just about every day by long-distance phone or Skype or Yahoo Instant Messenger. Despite the 71/2-hour time difference between Georgia and Afghanistan, if her phone started playing the words "Been far away, for far too long," she'd answer, whether it was 2 a.m., 8 a.m. or any other time.
On her left forearm, Cheryl tattooed the lyrics to their song, Nickelback's "Far Away."
On July 18, Cheryl heard a knock at the door and her dogs started barking. She saw a car outside and knew.
Saturday, after the military officials and the pastor spoke, one of the warrant officer who knew him said, "he was a good man." That's all she said.
Ed Koehler also leaves behind three daughters.