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Thousands show for fallen Marine's return home

By Mike Briggs | 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs | July 27, 2009

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — About a thousand people lined Harmon Drive from the Taj to the main gate the morning of July 26 to pay their respects to fallen Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Brandon Lara as a motorcade bringing his body home passed.

The 20-year-old from New Braunfels was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed in combat July 19.

A military flight from Dover Air Force Base, Del., that landed at about 10 a.m. at Randolph brought his body home to awaiting family members and military officials.

After a Marine Corps honor guard transferred the flag-draped casket from the aircraft to a hearse, the procession of base and local police cars, funeral home vehicles, family cars and more than 100 Patriot Guard motorcyclists travelled from base operations to the Taj and then down Harmon Drive between the rows of people lining each side of the street.

Just outside the gate, the motorcade passed under an American flag suspended between the buckets of two outstretched ladders from Live Oak and Universal City fire trucks.

From the base, the motorcade travelled down FM 78 to FM 3009 and up I-35 to New Braunfels. Like the scene along Harmon Drive, thousands of people in the community lined the streets in Universal City and Schertz leading to the highway.

The gesture did not go unnoticed by the family.

"It was just a beautiful thing," said Jacob Lara, Corporal Lara's father, later Sunday to a WOAI television news crew. "It was heartfelt ... looking at all the people standing out there and the lives that this young man touched. It really was heartfelt."

The swell of support for Corporal Lara and his family is indicative of the overall support people in the greater San Antonio community give to members of the military, said Col. Jacqueline Van Ovost, 12th Flying Training Wing commander, who was on the flightline when Corporal Lara's casket arrived.

"'Military City USA' is a term used a lot in describing the San Antonio area," Colonel Van Ovost said. "It was no cliché Sunday morning when people stood shoulder to shoulder to offer salutes, proudly hold the American flag, place their hands over their hearts and provide whatever gesture they thought appropriate as the procession ... drove the route from Randolph through Universal City and Schertz back to New Braunfels."

The impressive turnout of people on and off the base was the result of e-mail, telephone, Internet, media and word-of-mouth announcements of Corporal Lara's homecoming - news the base received July 24, only two days prior to the arrival.

Colonel Van Ovost said it was "a grass-roots effort like no other" that took place in the communities around the base resulting in the thousands of people putting aside other Sunday morning plans to honor Corporal Lara.

"I was amazed at the amount of people who showed up Sunday given the short notice," said former Marine Tony Gatlin, who works at Air Education and Training Command.

He said he wanted to attend and pay his respects because he was once a lance corporal himself and lives the "Once a Marine, always a Marine" motto. He said he also wanted his wife, Erica, who is new to the military family to attend.

"It was very moving and emotional for her, because she has never seen anything like that," Mr. Gatlin said. "At the same time, we were both impressed with the pride displayed by everyone out there. It just shows how this community comes together to support the military."

Maj. J.T. Goodson of the Air Force Personnel Center stood in his service dress uniform and rendered a salute, like many others, when the motorcade passed. He brought his sons Hunter and Logan.

"I wanted my sons to be there to honor a hero," he said. "I wanted them to see what 'sacrifice' means and to know that Corporal Lara is a real hero, not a movie hero."

He added it was a touching and obviously very sad event, but that he was proud to be among the many who came out to pay their respects to the Lara family.

"It was the least we could do to honor him," Major Goodson said.

Colonel Van Ovost said Corporal Lara's death is a solemn reminder that Americans are still in harm's way and many are paying the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.

"His death reminds us that young people today are just as patriotic and willing to serve as those who have answered the call from the Revolutionary War to present," she said. "His death reminds us that war is not something far removed from our daily lives; it is always near despite the fact we may not read about it daily in the headlines."