As fellow 2nd Battalion Marines are welcomed home in Chicago, the reality that their beloved Marine, Lance Corporal Branden Ramey, is not home hits even harder for friends and family.
"Unfortunately, I want to be happy for them, but it will be all that much more real for me," Ramey's mother Pam Trevino said.
On what should have been a joyous day, Branden's mother and his fiancé Stacey Lee instead spent Saturday keeping each other strong. They reminisced, they laughed and they cried, upholding a special bond and a special vow.
"I made him a promise that I told him I would always take care of your family, I'm always going to take care of your mom and parents. I never thought that it would come into a situation like this, but I won't back on that promise. Never," Lee said.
The day also carried extra emotional weight with Branden's closest friends, who months later still wonder why of all the soldiers, it was their buddy who had to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
"It's kind of hard to understand why he's not here and they're all coming back. It's hard for me to comprehend it all right now," friend Tim Buhl said.
Ramey's friends spent Saturday with Branden's two younger brothers. They went camping, comforting and supporting each other and escaping Saturday's significance.
"It was good to be a good influence on them, to be there for them in a time of need. I know that's what Branden would have wanted, it's what his mom wants, it's what his friends want," friend Ryan Curry said.
And while Ramey's loved ones admit each day is an emotional roller coaster, they know their mutual encouragement, their late night phone calls will never waver, especially on the more difficult days.
"You grieve everyday, but at the same time, you realize that you have to go on. That others are counting on you to go on, and you know more than ever that that's what Branden expects of you," Trevino said.