The funeral flowers were red, white and blue. The flag overhead was three stories tall. The salutes numbered in the thousands.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base paid somber tribute to two elite combat rescuers killed in action in Afghanistan, but amid the pomp, the tiny hand of a toddler hammered home the loss.
Nestled in the arms of his tearful mother, 21-month-old Michael Flores Jr. reached out and petted a photo of his late father's face that overlooked an empty pair of combat boots.
The moment capped an emotional morning at Thursday's on-base memorial for Tech. Sgt. Michael Flores, 32, a Texas native, and Senior Airman Benjamin White, 24, of Tennessee.
White and Flores, both of D-M's 48th Rescue Squadron, are the first D-M fatalities since fighting began in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're also the 43rd and 44th service members with ties to Tucson and Southern Arizona to die at war during that time.
Both were pararescuemen, or PJs, highly trained to save lives under dangerous conditions. They died June 9 when their rescue helicopter crashed in northern Helmand province. Two other airmen from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., also died.
The military is probing the crash and hasn't released details. Foreign news outlets have reported that the Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting down the aircraft, which was on a rescue mission at the time.
At D-M, two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters, the same kind the airmen died in, flew past the memorial service to honor the fallen pair.
Flores was on his eighth deployment; White, his first.
"Our hearts ache for their passing," said their squadron commander, Maj. Jason Pifer, his voice breaking.
Yet both men died "doing what they loved," he added.
PJs undergo grueling training in daring rescue techniques, such as rappelling from helicopters or parachuting from high altitude.
About 85 percent of hopefuls flunk out during the two-year program. Those who succeed are bestowed maroon berets as symbols of their achievement.
Dozens of maroon berets topped heads bent in mourning as loved ones eulogized the late airmen. About 1,200 attended the service held inside an aircraft hangar.
"My soul is surrounded by darkness right now, " said Flores' wife, Tech. Sgt. Marisa Flores, who is stationed at D-M and wore her dress blue uniform to the memorial service. The couple also have a daughter, Eliana, 3.
Marisa Flores described her husband as a devoted father, and a man so humble he'd shush her whenever she mentioned his career achievements, which included a Distinguished Flying Cross awarded for heroism.
"Michael and Eliana," she said, speaking to her children, "I want you know your Daddy loves you very, very much. He's not here to say it anymore, but I'll never let you forget."
White's father, Anthony White, recalled his son as a formerly aimless teenager who found a sense of purpose through his Air Force career.
After graduating from PJ school, he said, Benjamin White had a Bible verse tattooed on his back that symbolized his commitment to helping others: "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend."
White also is survived by his mother, Brenda Logozo and stepfather, Frank Logozo.
Staff Sgt. Jason Walker, White's supervisor, recalled him as a strapping man whose most frequent question to his boss was "What can I do to help?"
"The truth is," Walker said, as if speaking to White, "it looks like your heart was the biggest muscle of all."
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4138.