As a kid, Skip Wells was into video games and bottle rockets. He was a bright and gregarious student who loved playing hockey and the clarinet. He and his best friend were so tight throughout middle and high school that their teachers frequently had to separate them.
As a United States Marine, Wells was dedicated, disciplined and determined to excel.
Hundreds of friends, family members and community supporters flocked to Woodstock First Baptist Church on Sunday to say goodbye. Wells, killed during a terrorist's rampage in Chattanooga this month, was 21.
"Skip's life, as short as it was, mattered," Senior Pastor Johnny Hunt said. "His life made a difference."
Mourners started filling the parking lot hours ahead of time. Scores of motorcycle riders bearing standards stood at attention along the path leading to the front entrance, and a Marine honor guard escorted Wells' flag-draped coffin into the building.
After the congregation stood to sing "How Great Thou Art," Wells' close friend Jarekq D. Aloisio shared memories both funny and poignant. They became friends when their moms set up play dates for the two boys and were inseparable throughout grade and high school. At Sprayberry High School, Aloisio played football while Wells was in the marching band. Aloisio's Facebook profile photo shows the two buddies in their respective game-night uniforms.
"We were always together," Aloisio said.
One anecdote in particular demonstrated both Wells' fun-loving heart and dedicated soul.
"I tried getting Skip into skateboarding. He was smarter than that," Aloisio recalled. After kissing the sidewalk, Wells ran to his rescue, hauling his bleeding and battered friend up the driveway shouting lines inspired by wartime movies: "Medic! Get me some morphine!"
The two guys spent hours firing toy pistols at imaginary enemies or devising troop movements with their platoons of toy soldiers.
"Together, we found his calling," Alosio said.
Marine First Sgt. John E. Coyne got to know Wells after he enlisted and was quickly impressed. Every where he turned, it seemed, there would be the young lance corporal at parade rest, ready for an opportunity to ask questions about how he could improve.
"He was what we call a hard charger," Coyne said.
During a training mission, Wells and the business end of a sledgehammer crossed paths and he was left with a smashed thumb. Coyne took a look and said Wells probably would need to come out of the field to receive medical treatment. Wells wouldn't have it.
"First Sgt., I will not leave my gun," he recalled Wells saying. "I'll refuse medical treatment but I'm not leaving my position."
That selflessness was on a display when a terrorist opened fire at the Chattanooga military site where Wells was serving," Coyne said.
"He cared more about his fellow Marines and the mission than he did about himself."
Before bagpiper Steve Thrasher filled the air with a mournful presentation of "Amazing Grace," Coyne made a promise to Wells' mother, Cathy Wells.
"Mrs. Wells, you will forever be a part of the Marine Corps family," he said. "We will not leave you behind."
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