ALLENDALE, S.C. - Friends say Pfc. Rodricka Youmans, a Marine who was killed this month in Iraq, was a fun-loving young man who will be remembered in his hometown as a hero.
"It's an honor to say that we graduated with a hero," were the words Pfc. Youmans' high school classmates had engraved on a plaque that was presented to his parents at his funeral Saturday. "We will miss his smile because that's what we always saw first."
Pfc. Youmans, 22, and three other Marines of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion from Camp Lejeune, N.C., died July 6 when their vehicle struck a mine near Fallujah.
Pfc. Youmans was buried with full military honors in a family plot at the Hoover Cemetery in Ulmer after a service attended by friends and family members at Allendale Elementary School.
Classmate James Williams said Pfc. Youmans was a lighthearted friend who often reminded him not to take life so seriously.
"I now know it was his way of telling me that life is too short," Mr. Williams said, according to The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat.
"When we talked about death ... I was thinking it would be when we were old and gray," Mr. Williams said. "I had hoped that it would be after we spent our 60s and 70s fishing together.
"I wanted us to have time to argue a little more. We were supposed to argue about whose wife was prettier and whose children were smarter."
After graduating from Allendale-Fairfax High School in 2000, Pfc. Youmans studied to become a mechanic for about a year at a technical school in Houston.
He returned home, planning to work and go to college. But he found it difficult to find work in Allendale. After being laid off from his last local job, Pfc. Youmans joined the military.
He wanted to support his fiance, Stephanie Cuthbertson, and children, Amiyah, 4, and Mekhi, 1. A third child, Rodricka Jr., is due next month.
"I need to be a man," Johnnie and Manderlene Youmans recalled their son telling them when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. "I need to take care of my kids."
The Rev. Charcey Priester, who delivered the eulogy, said Pfc. Youmans was not the kind of man who made excuses to escape duty.
"When it was time for him to go to Iraq, he could have said, 'I have two children. I have a child on the way. I have a fiance,'" the Rev. Priester said. "But because he was a man of honor, he did his job with pride. He was prepared."