Editor's note: I attended the in Campbell Monday and met lots of people—veterans, families of veterans and supporters of veterans.
One man, Phil Reynolds, came up to me and shared a story about a funeral he'd attended for a fallen soldier. It was touching, and stayed in my mind.
Although the funeral took place in 2009, it stuck in his mind and heart, and he has asked to share his experience with the readers of Campbell Patch.
Here is his story, in his words.
It was a day to honor Pvt. Jake Velloza, a true fallen hero and a freedom fighter that gave his all. Yesterday started with a 6 a.m. departure time from the San Jose area for a ride to the city of Petaluma.
Indian Bob and myself met up with two other members from ABATE Local 32, Dean and Noel. As we rode up Highway 101, I rode with anticipation, as I have never been on an escort ride with the Patriot Guards before.
We arrived at the funeral home at about 8 a.m. and were directed to pull around back and get in line. Staging had already begun with about 150-plus bikes in front of us. As we waited, I made my way inside the funeral home to pay my respects to Pvt. Velloza.
As I approached the flag-draped open casket, I could only take a quick glance at his body. I think, subconsciously, I did not feel worthy of being in the presence of a true American hero.
I said a short prayer for Jake and his family. As I walked away, I shed a tear for Jake. I thought to myself, how could this happen to a fine young man with a family at home that loves him?
After getting our ride instructions from the Ride Captain, we saddled up and proceeded out the parking lot in a calm and very organized manner. The procession was led by a California Highway Patrol vehicle, followed by a fire truck, the Honor Guards, the Patriot Guard Riders, the hearse, the family limousine, Jake's father riding his Victory motorcycle, the R.I.P. M.C. ( Jake's father is a member), and the rest of the guests.
As we made a right turn onto Petaluma Boulevard, the sight before me was what has made this the most beautiful ride that I have ever been on. All the way down Petaluma Boulevard, the sidewalks and driveways were lined with what I felt was the entire town's population of residents.
They were young and old, big and small, and everyone was waving American flags and were either saluting or holding their hand over their hearts. Again, this sight brought a tear to my eye. I was proud to be an American, and so proud to see those that stood there, saying a last farewell as the body of Pvt. Jake Velloza passed them, while being carried to his final resting place.
We made another right turn onto D Street, which led us out of town and into the countryside. As we made our way to the little town of Olema, via Point Reyes, we meandered past beautiful farms and ranches. The property owners along the route had mounted large American flags on their fence posts.
The mile markers were decorated with red, white and blue streamers. Passing dirt roads that led to the farm houses, the residents held flags, stood at attention and saluted as Pvt. Jake Velloza passed by. Volunteer fire Stations had their trucks on display as the volunteer firemen too, stood at attention and saluted.
Again, we passed through the little town of Point Reyes, only to have the street line with proud Americans waving flags and saluting. What a sight that was.
There were banners that said "We HEART you Jake." We made our way through Point Reyes and rode on to the church where a mass was held. Pvt. Jake Velloza's casket was carried into the church while the bagpipes played in the background. The church was filled with family and close friends, so we waited patiently outside during the service.
Following the service, it was a short ride to the cemetery. Everyone arrived there before the hearse, so as to not interrupt the military honors service. With everyone in place, the hearse and the limousine carrying Jake's family arrived.
The family was escorted to their seats by military officials. A prayer was said by the priest and then the military honors service commenced. As the casket was being carried to the grave, I notice a beautiful hawk flying overhead. It was an interesting observation.
Pvt. Jake Velloza was given a 21-gun salute, Taps was played, "Amazing Grace" was played on the bagpipes, and the flag that draped the casket was presented to the family. Immediately following the graveside ceremony, the guests left to leave some private time for the family as Jake's body was laid to rest. We then rode back to the town of Point Reyes for a celebration of Jake's life.
Our ride home was somber, yet reflecting. We really do live in a great country. America was built on the word "Freedom," and we must never forget the men and women that have served our country in the past, currently, and our children of the future that will continue to keep this great nation free.
As Americans, we must continue on a daily basis to be so ever vigilant of our rights granted to us by all those who have sacrificed for what we have today.
In closing, I will say to Jake and all the other fine men and women who have paid the ultimate price for our freedoms, "You are loved, appreciated, and will never be forgotten. Thank you so much for your sacrifices, and may God bless you.
Philip Reynolds Jr.