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Patriotic Article
Heroes and Patriots
By Army Sgt. John Zumer

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Rineyville Soldier Makes Final Journey Home
(September 27, 2010)

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1st Lt. Eric YatesFORT KNOX, Ky. – He came home to Kentucky, met by family, friends and others who wanted to show their appreciation. For those gathered at Fort Knox's Godman Army Airfield, however, it wasn't the homecoming they had in mind when 1st Lt. Eric Yates left for Afghanistan.

The 26-year old native of nearby Rineyville died Sept. 18 when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in the Zhari District, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) from Fort Campbell, Ky.

Hundreds of soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division made the solemn march to Godman, Sept. 24. They came to pay their final and highest respects to a fallen American hero, which certainly is one of the most important things they'll ever do. But standing alongside Fort Knox soldiers, family members and friends awaiting the arrival of the plane carryingYates, it was clear many others came to show the community and the Yates family that people do care and support them in this trying hour.

“It's just the least we can do to honor and support this soldier,” said Toby Martinez, a defense contractor at Fort Knox who retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel. The ceremony for Yates struck a painful chord with Martinez, who experienced the loss of his daughter's fianc´┐Ż, an Army lieutenant serving in Iraq, back in February 2004. He took solace and pride in the fact that so many people turned out to say goodbye to a young Soldier not because they had to, but because they wanted to.

“I'll probably be given a ticket for being double parked, but I don't care,” said Martinez, who had taken time off from work so he could attend the ceremony.
He wasn't alone.

Thomas Folsom, an Army veteran with 26 years of service, heads up a group of local motorcycle enthusiasts belonging to a national organization known as the Patriot Guard Riders. The group was serving as a motorized escort for the Yates family as they traveled to both the funeral home and cemetery after leaving Fort Knox.

“We're here to honor the soldier and family,” Folsom said, adding that most of the people in his organization “are just great Americans.”

Sixty-one riders were in attendance, said Folsom, who serves as the senior ride captain of his district. His group provides visibility and escort duties chiefly to show Families they are not forgotten and that the sacrifices of their loved ones will be remembered by a grateful public.

A procession through Hardin County, where Yates graduated from John Hardin High School in 2003, was to follow later in the morning.

For those attending the ceremony at Godman, it certainly wasn't to listen to touching or lengthy speeches about Yates, whose life was cut short fighting America's enemies in a distant country. There were no speeches. In fact, there wasn't any of the military music or pageantry normally associated with important Army events. This day was simply reserved for a group of people, many who had never met, to say goodbye to a young man named Eric Yates who had paid the ultimate price for his country and what he believed in.

That seemed to be enough.

“I'm so proud to be an American right now,” said Martinez gently.

By Army Sgt. John Zumer
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division
Copyright 2010

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