by: Photo By Susan Matheny - Parents of Pfc. Thomas Tucker, Meg and Wes Tucker, clutch a flag given to them by U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Gregg Martin.

   Several thousand people celebrated the life of a Madras man, Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, on Saturday at a funeral service in Redmond, and graveside, at Mount Jefferson Memorial Park Cemetery.
   Tucker, 25, who was kidnapped and killed in Iraq in mid-June, was honored as an American hero. "We'll never forget the name of Thomas Tucker and what he did," said Gov. Ted Kulongoski, at the funeral service at the Deschutes County Expo Center in Redmond.
   Tucker's courage and the quiet dignity of his family -- parents Wes and Meg, and sister Tayva -- after his brutal death, should serve as a lesson to all, he said.
   The nation can demand justice, without seeking vengeance, Kulongoski said. "The ways of our enemy are not our ways ... The hope for revenge and retribution are not our hopes."
   U.S. Rep. Greg Walden remarked upon Tucker's devotion to his country and desire to make a difference. "Though I did not know him, I owe him a debt of gratitude that I shall never be able to repay," he said.
   Although Tucker was a soldier, Walden said, he always played the role of peacemaker with family and friends. "His sense of humor and ready smile remain legendary among family and friends."
   Tucker's sister Tayva, 28, of Prineville, said that when she was preparing to speak at the funeral, she could hear her brother telling her, "take a breath; quit stressing out."
   Before Tucker even started talking about the war, Tayva said he was a hero in her eyes and the eyes of her sons, Tanner and Tyson Ebersole, ages 8 and 4.
   "I'm going to be proud of you for the rest of my life," she said, noting that his legacy will live on through her boys, their parents, and other family members.
   Following a video tribute to Tucker, set to his favorite song, "The Dance," sung by Garth Brooks, Dee Werner of Madras, sang a song she had written entitled, "You Gave Us Love, Tommy's Song."
   Pastor Lee McCloud of the Living Hope Christian Center, officiated at both the funeral and graveside services, and recalled the last time he had spoken to Tucker, before he left, when the young man had asked about the purpose of life, and if there is a heaven.
   "All the questions we talked about in my office have been answered for Tom," he said.
   After an eight-mile-long, formal procession back to Madras, graveside services were held at Mount Jefferson Memorial Park Cemetery.
   The family was presented with the flag from the casket and an Oregon state flag, as well as their son's medals, the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and a Combat Service Medal.
   Family and friends gathered and shared memories afterward, in a less formal setting in the cafetorium at Madras High School, where Tucker graduated in 1999, and his mother Meg stills works.
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