Procession leads fallen Marine home
WEST CHESTER TWP — An Army helicopter hovering overhead signaled the arrival of the motorcade that delivered U.S. Marine Sgt. John Patrick “J.P.” Huling to his hometown Sunday.
Led by more than 50 motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders, the procession moved slowly on the rain-slicked streets, passing dozens who braved the bad weather to pay tribute to the region’s latest fallen soldier.
Sgt. Huling, 25, a bomb-disposal specialist, was shot in the chest and killed in Afghanistan on May 6 by someone wearing an Afghan National Army uniform. Defense Department officials say the Moeller High School graduate, who was conducting combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, will be awarded the Purple Heart.
Megan Stout , 48, choked back tears as she explained why she brought her children from West Harrison, Ind., to stand in the rain and honor Huling.
“We brought the kids along to teach them to respect the people who fight for our freedom,” Stout said. “Being a mom, I can’t imagine having your son come home this way, especially on Mother’s Day”
Mark and Heather Hawton of West Chester also lined the procession route with their three children, Emily 13, Andy, 11 and Molly, 9.
“I think that something that’s lost on our children – the next generation doesn’t have an appreciation of the sacrifices that are made,” Mark Hawton said. “We also had some friends that lost their son about a year and a half ago, and they said it meant a lot to have people line up and pay tribute.”
At one point, a man in the back seat of a red SUV in the procession rolled down his window and acknowledged the crowd, many of whom waved American Flags.
Lee Wong, a member of the West Chester Township Board of Trustees and a Vietnam veteran, said all returning American soldiers should get such strong support.
“I don’t want people to forget that, when we came back from the Vietnam War, we didn’t get this kind of reception,” Wong, 60, said. “We had to take our uniforms off when we came back home, and I don’t want to see that happen to soldiers that come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. You may not support the wars, but you should always support the troops.”
The procession, which began at the Butler County Airport, wound along Union Centre Boulevard to West Chester Road and on to Hodapp Funeral Home on Cincinnati Columbus Road.
With their escort completed, several Patriot Guard Riders stopped at a local restaurant to warm up and dry out before heading home. The Patriot Guard Riders is a national organization of motorcycle riders that attends the funeral services of fallen American soldiers.
Doug Cooper, 53, of Sycamore Township said it was going to take more than rain to keep the Patriot Guard away today. One rider laid his motorcycle down because of the wet conditions, but he was uninjured.
“We were going to be here regardless,” Cooper said. “Unless it’s the dead of winter and really icy, we’re going to be there riding.”
Cooper’s wife, Cindy, who was celebrating her birthday Sunday, convinced him to come out.
“I told her I would stay home because it was Mother’s Day and her birthday, but she said, ‘That boy’s mother needs your support more than I do today.’ ”
A visitation for Sgt. Huling takes place today from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Moeller High School. A Mass of Christian burial at St Michael the Archangel Church in Sharonville will be said at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Sgt. Huling’s body will then be flown to Washington D.C., where he will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
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