Steamboat Springs Wesley Adams remembers meeting Eric O'Hara a decade ago while lifting weights in preparation for freshman football at Steamboat Springs High School.
After eyeing him for a few minutes, O'Hara flexed his muscles in the mirror, came over with his unmistakable swagger and introduced himself, Adams said. Although football wouldn't be the then-scrawny 115-pound O'Hara's calling, the two remained close even as oceans would separate them in the coming years, he said.
"Just two weeks ago, I saw our buddy 'Irish' for the last time," Adams said. "Eric fittingly left my life the same way he met me - with a firm handshake and a smile."
O'Hara, 24, died Feb. 28 in Steamboat Springs after falling six stories off the roof at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel in a snow removal accident. Hundreds of mourners packed his memorial service Wednesday at the Steamboat Sheraton Resort Hotel to say their last goodbyes.
O'Hara's coffin was flanked by an honor guard from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based Third Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division - soldiers who served alongside O'Hara in his tours of duty overseas.
O'Hara had been discharged from the U.S. Army only a month before his death. During his service, he fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he led more than 80 combat missions.
"Although he went on missions very frequently, it was never enough for him," Maj. Charles Claffey said. "Eric loved being a paratrooper, and he loved serving his country.
"The gunner is personally responsible for the safety of everyone in the vehicle and sits exposed on the top," Claffey said. "He would be right beside me through hell or high water. I am without a doubt here only because of his actions in Iraq."
Family members and close friends took turns sharing their memories of O'Hara, often choking back tears.
"I can't believe that I will never be able to call you, or hug you or hear your amazing laugh ever again," sister Caitlin O'Hara said.
Eric touched everyone he met with his love for life, from his fellow soldiers to the high school guidance counselors for whom he made life so difficult, Adams said.
"Eric was the best brother that you could imagine," stepsister Heidi Montag said. "I wish I would've known that our time was limited, but you can't."
Interment is at 1 p.m. today at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.
Donations can be made to the Eric O'Hara Memorial Fund at any branch of Mountain Valley Bank.