Published: August 4, 2013
A soldier's life was celebrated Saturday.
Services for Spc. Rob Lee Nichols, who died July 23 while serving in Afghanistan, were held at Holy Apostles Catholic Church, a day after his body arrived at Peterson Air Force Base. Military honors were at the Shrine of Remembrance Veterans Honor Court afterward.
Nichols was serving with the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 4th Brigade Combat team of the 3rd Infantry Division.
Hundreds showed up for the services, including family, friends and members of the military. Colorado Patriot Guard Riders, holding American flags, flanked the entry to the church.
The silver casket, covered with a pall, rested at the foot of the altar, an eternal flame above it, under the gaze of a statue of Jesus.
The arrival of Nichols' body in Colorado Springs was special, marked by rainbows, the Rev. Michael Butler said.
"Folks were taking pictures of rainbows all over the city," he said. "I believe that God does manifest signs that remind us of his purpose. God was blessing our town because of what Rob represented through the rainbows."
The 24-year-old, he said, "had a wonderful gift of giving back."
"Rob died (so that) others may live by his selfless life," Butler said. "Ultimately, he died for the freedom of his nation."
From the church, the funeral procession led by Colorado Springs police wended its way to the Shrine or Remembrance, where Nichols was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He also was awarded Good Conduct, NATO, Afghan Campaign and Global War on Terror medals.
The family sat in chairs in front of the casket outdoors under a bright, sunny sky. Others honoring the soldier stood solemnly behind them.
"Rob died so that others might live," said Brig. Gen. Tom James, noting that Nichols' brigade motto was "Out Front, and that's the way he lived."
Rob, "will live on in the hearts of everyone here," he said.
Rob's mother, Donna, broke into tears several times during the ceremony.
When she was handed the wooden box holding her son's Purple Heart, she rested her palm on it for a moment before handing it back.
As the ceremony wrapped up, bagpipes droning "Amazing Grace," she pointed her hand, palm up, toward the casket.
It was the same hand that rested on the Purple Heart box.
Above her, an American flag billowed at half-staff, snapping in the wind.
Inside the Shrine of Remembrance Funeral Home, where visitation had been held, memorabilia gave a taste of a life well-lived.
What some of the items represented seemed obvious.
Others, said his father, Bruce, "are personal."
Rob, Bruce said, was very active.
He loved the outdoors, riding dirt bikes and ATVs, snowboarding and hockey.
On the right side of a lectern in the chapel, there was Rob's 2007 letter jacket from Sand Creek High School for track, his name emblazoned on the right chest.
A photo showed Rob and others whitewater rafting.
A copy of the movie "Alfie," starring Jude Law, the $2.99 price tag still on it, rested on a table.
Also on the table: Cherry-flavored Skoal, a $5 bill, model of a MOPAR semitruck, a spark plug and a model from the movie "Cars."
There were hockey jerseys, gloves, a hockey stick, puck and helmet.
Yellow motocross boots rested on the floor.
Special meaning everywhere.
On the other side of the lectern were reminders of Rob's military life.
"A Soldier's Poem" in a frame.
An army fatigue cap.
A pair of identification tags on a chain, one with its edges framed in black plastic.
"Nichols," said the tags. "Rob L."