BERLIN HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) – As she waited for the hearse that carried one of the 13 U.S. soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan two weeks ago, Faye Hillis thought of all of the military veterans she found at the lonely funeral home Hometown had mourned.
Your father who came home from WWII. Your cousin who died in Vietnam. Too many friends and neighbors to count.
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“I have all these flashbacks,” she said on Wednesday as schoolchildren, families and veterans lined the village’s two main streets to honor Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak.
While the war in Afghanistan is over, its harsh reality still comes home as Americans now begin to honor and bury the final victims who have come back from a 20-year war that killed more than 2,400 Americans Has.
Stars and stripes of all sizes and homemade signs saying “Thank you for your service” adorned the processional route through northern Ohio, where Soviak, 22, grew up before joining the Navy.
In suburban St. Louis, thousands lined Interstate 70 to meet Marine Lance Cpl on Wednesday. Jared Schmitz, 20, whose body was escorted from the airport to a funeral home in St. Charles, Missouri. Lots of people brought American flags and huge flags fluttered from the turntable ladders of fire trucks. The procession, which was attended by about 1,000 Patriot Guard motorcyclists, was so long that the Missouri State Highway Patrol closed the interstate to traffic going west via the 8 1/2 mile route.
Among those who paid attention was 60-year-old Luther Loughridge, a retired lieutenant in the US Coast Guard, who saluted in uniform for more than 20 minutes.
“It is the last of the Afghanistan war and he is the last victim,” said Loughridge. “He’s given his whole life and as veterans we respond to that.”
These are scenes that will occur over the coming days in places like Omaha, Nebraska; Laredo, Texas; Logansport, Indiana; and Sacramento, California; for the 13 who were killed in the August 26 bombing of Kabul Airport in Afghanistan during the hectic airlift in the final days of the conflict.
On a clear morning in rural Ohio, military veterans on motorcycles accompanied Soviak’s remains the last eight miles to his hometown, first through the neighboring village where inventor Thomas Edison was born and then through the stadium where Soviak was football five years ago -Captain of the Edison High Chargers.
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One last curve led the procession past the house of the Soviak family onto a street, Army Sgt. David Sexton, who died in the Vietnam War, America’s longest war to date.
Across the street from the funeral home, some of Soviak’s relatives watched from their porch as a military guard of honor carried his coffin inside – just a week after the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The congregation will come together in a few days to honor Soviak on a public Sunday visit to the high school. The funeral will take place on Monday morning in the school’s football stadium.
“We all have a bit of a struggle,” said Kami Neuberger, a neighbor who thought of “Max” like another brother. “I never thought it would happen.”
Only a year younger than Soviak, her older brother, who is now a marine, graduated from high school with him in 2017.
“He was always right next to my brother, making fun of me, teasing me and being silly,” she said. “He tried to make everyone smile.”
A few doors down, Elyse Colwell was sitting on a blanket with her two toddlers. She remembered when she was in middle school and her father went to Afghanistan with his Ohio National Guard unit.
And she thought that Soviak and many of the others killed in the bombing would have been around the age of their own two children when the war in Afghanistan began shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“These kids were toddlers when it started. It’s almost like they grew up with it, ”Colwell said, adding that she’s worried about what’s next. “Just because we left doesn’t mean it’s over.”
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