MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The U.S. Marines are fighting alongside the British in southern Afghanistan. We've been following one battalion there. Shortly before they began their current operation in Helmand province, one Marine wrote a letter to his grandmother.

Lance Corporal Charles Sharp wrote that soon he'd be fighting in a mission his grandchildren would learn about in history class. Well, just days after he mailed that letter, Sharp died in battle, the first Marine killed in the offensive. This weekend, Lance Corporal Charles Sharp was buried in his hometown of Adairsville, Georgia. John Sepulvado of Georgia Public Broadcasting was there.

JOHN SEPULVADO: The Northpointe Church in Adairsville was packed. For three and half hours, the line of people waiting to view Lance Corporal Charles Sharp's casket extended into the parking lot. The family stood next to the casket, hugging every single well-wisher who came through. And behind them, a giant screen displayed pictures of Sharp.

And the funny thing about most of these pictures is that as a teen, or even as a boy, Sharp never gives a full smile. He just kind of grins and flashes a few teeth.

Mr. RIC SHARP: We got three teeth and a laugh and that was it.

SEPULVADO: That's Ric Sharp, Charles' dad. And while it didn't show up in photos, Sharp was extremely playful, even a little bit of a mischief maker. As the sun went down outside the church, his friends, including Justin Hooper and Patrick Maolin, took turns telling stories of getting in trouble as kids with Sharp, who went by his middle name, Seth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JUSTIN HOOPER: Too many stories getting into trouble.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PATRICK MAOLIN: It was my cousin, Justin and Seth, and they were chewing tobacco. And I was, like, man, I want some of that. I put a big ol' pinch in my mouth and I, ooh, I got sicker than a dog.

Mr. SHARP: He loved to be into things, nothing bad.

SEPULVADO: Again, that's his dad, Ric Sharp.

Mr. SHARP: He didn't mind having fun. I know I come home one day, and the sheriff's car's in my driveway. And I'm thinking, oh, lord, what have these kids done now?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SHARP: The sheriff's out here with him and four of his buddies in my backyard. They've been hitting golf balls down in the woods and didn't realize somebody's building a house down there. And the lady was afraid he was going to hit the house or, more importantly, hit their kids.

SEPULVADO: His dad describes the kind of trouble Seth got into as simple little things, things he can laugh about now. And so it was until Seth turned 17, when he made a big decision. His dad told him to go to school and get a job or join the military. Seth was looking to become more serious and straighten up. And his dad says the 9/11 attacks also had a lot to do with why Seth joined the Marines.

He told everyone he wanted to do what was toughest and so he signed up for the infantry. His stepmom, Tiffany Sharp, was scared to pieces about the whole thing. She tried to talk him out of it.

Ms. TIFFANY SHARP: Yes, I said go into another one, or go into the Navy, go out in a boat, you know. That way you're not, you know, Marines, infantry (unintelligible). It was just adding up, and I was, like, I just don't know what I'm going to do with this youngin'. But, you know, that's where his heart was.

SEPULVADO: After basic training, his family says Seth matured in a hurry. He even got engaged. His fiancee was able to get a big smile out of him in all of the pictures he took with her. Those pictures of Seth, with his strong jaw, steely blue eyes and big smile, sit on the Sharps' kitchen table next to newspaper reports, letters from well-wishers and the flag that draped their son's coffin when his body was returned home from Afghanistan.

For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado.

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