"He came back just for us," his friend and fellow Marine corporal Chris Palmerino said in an interview. "He had already fulfilled his six-year obligation." As others would also say at Mr. Brown's funeral on Wednesday, Mr. Palmerino said his platoon leader "took care of us."
Mr. Brown, 32, died not in Iraq but in his hometown of Baltimore, shot to death June 5 after an altercation outside a Mount Vernon bar with an off-duty Baltimore policeman angered that he had inappropriately touched a woman who was with the officer. Gahiji A. Tshamba has been charged with first-degree murder.
Among those who spoke at his funeral, held in an auditorium at the Murphy Fine Arts Center on the Morgan State University campus, were friends from Mr. Brown's rough East Baltimore neighborhood and his Marine unit — with both groups noting wearily how often they found themselves at funerals for someone whose life was cut too short.
"We came through a neighborhood, [if] you get to 32, 34 [years old], you don't die like this," said Taavon Stewart, a friend. "We graduated from this."
Whether it was in Iraq or back in Baltimore, Mr. Brown was protective and fun-loving, his friends said.
Glenwood Howard, a cousin, spoke of his love of a good party, dancing even though he "never really had no rhythm." But no one noticed, Howard added, because he always had a big smile on his face.
Mr. Howard recalled growing up with Mr. Brown, playing pranks and going to "Aunt Poochie's house," referring to Mr. Brown's mother, Vivian Scott. "She was the best cook in the neighborhood."
He was athletic, playing lacrosse at Lombard Middle School and lacrosse and football at Southern High, and joined the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, a Marine Reserve unit based in Northeast Baltimore, in 1997. He was an electrician, but once in Iraq, his unit did everything from guard and convoy duty to wiring facilities for the other Marines.
"It was not a walk in the park," said Mr. Palmerino, who served in Ramadi with Mr. Brown from September 2004 to March 2005. He recalled a time when the base came under mortar fire and Mr. Brown directed those around him to safety before he himself took cover.
During off-hours, he kept everyone entertained, Mr. Palmerino said, with his humor and friendly personality. "I think he knew everyone on base," Mr. Palmerino said, remembering how no matter which of the 1,300 service members they ran across on base, Mr. Brown knew his or her name.
It was the same back home, where friends said Mr. Brown could be counted on for a good time, whether in a bar or at breakfast, at work or watching a football game.
"We would just laugh and laugh and laugh," said Adil Khan, who had met him in a gym.
Mr. Brown's two children, Jade and JacQuan, read poems, and musicians — including a childhood friend, Curtis Warren, a saxophonist — offered songs. Tributes from elected officials, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, were read.
Soon, it would be time for his fellow Marines, some dressed in the same uniform that Mr. Brown was buried in, to assemble for a final march. His former boss, Gunnery Sgt. Ken Johnson, told the crowd that he'd made sure Brown's ribbons and buttons were straight and that his brass shone because he would't let him check into heaven looking bad — although, being a Marine, he used a more colorful term.
"Marines never die, we merely go to heaven and regroup," Sergeant Johnson said to appreciative chuckles. "I do believe God prepares a special place for Marines."
Mr. Brown's flag-draped coffin was borne out of the auditorium and taken to the Garrison Forest Veterans Cemetery in Owings Mills, where he was buried.