They Stand For Zac
(March 29, 2011)
AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS - 3/25/2011) -- For two days, four
Ramstein Airmen traveled to O'Fallon, Ill. We were there to
attend the funeral of our fallen wingman, Airman 1st Class
Zac Cuddeback. |
Before we departed Germany, we
learned that back in Illinois, the community was placing
several thousand large American flags along Airman
Cuddeback's arrival route.
Upon Zac's arrival March
12, hundreds of patriots would stand silent on this same
We missed Zac's arrival by a couple of hours,
but later that night, as we approached the town of O'Fallon,
we started seeing them -- American flags -- hundreds upon
hundreds of them.
Perhaps it was because we have
been living outside the United States for a while, or maybe
it had been a long flight from Germany, or maybe it was pure
patriotism. Whatever the reason, as we started passing the
flags our car fell silent.
For miles we passed flags
on both sides of the road. And then as we entered O'Fallon,
we didn't see just flags, but we now noticed the billboards
too. Yes every billboard -- churches, schools, and
businesses, all had a message honoring Airman Cuddeback.
Dozens of them.
Needless to say, these symbols of a
community's support, American flags and billboard messages
dedicated to Zac, put a lump in my throat.
day, the patriotism and community outpouring continued. When
we drove to St. Nicholas Church for Zac's visitation and
funeral, we didn't need a GPS. We just followed the American
flags, hundreds and hundreds more.
Upon arrival at the church, the entire parking lot
was surrounded by flag-holding "Patriot Guards"
standing shoulder to shoulder. Patriot Guard Riders
are motorcyclists with one mission: attend the
funeral services of fallen heroes, show respect and
protect them from protesters.
We got out of
our car and walked to the church entrance. There
were more American-flag-holding Patriot Guards, and
now they were joined by Boy Scouts. All were lined
up in silent vigil for Zac.
We spoke with
many of the Patriot Guards. Some were locals. Many
more had ridden their motorcycles 4 to 6 hours to be
in O'Fallon that day. They were there hours before
we arrived at the church. They stood silently
guarding Airman Cuddeback and his family. And after
the funeral, more than 200 of them would lead Zac to
his final resting place.
And then, when we
thought we couldn't
Patriot Guard Riders lead the funeral procession route of Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback March 12, 2011, in O'Fallon, Ill. Airman Cuddeback and another Airman were killed March 2, 2011, when a man opened fire on a bus carrying U.S. Airmen at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Airman Cuddeback will be laid to rest next to his grandfather at a cemetery in O'Fallon, Ill. U.S. Air Force photo
byStaff Sgt. Brian J. Valencia
see any more outpouring from this community, it
happened. It happened as we began our 4-mile drive
to the cemetery. It happened as we drove through
neighborhoods and along country roads.
on the drive we saw them: hundreds -- no, not
hundreds, but thousands. Thousands of O'Fallon
citizens lining the route to honor Airman Cuddeback.
They stood silently on both sides of the
road. They stood with American flags in hand. They
stood holding up homemade signs. They stood
saluting. They stood in their front yards. They
stood next to an industrial-sized crane flying a
massive American flag above the procession.
And we were there. We saw them all: moms and dads,
grandparents and kids. Some were in wheelchairs,
others in strollers, but they were all there. And
mixed in among them were boy and girl scouts,
military members, police officers, firefighters and
store owners. Yes, thousands were there for Zac.
Although they couldn't bring him back, they did
the next best thing: they honored him. They honored
his family. They honored his service. They honored
his ultimate sacrifice. This small town came out in
big numbers for one of their very own. Silent,
patriotic, and powerful. And we were there.
Four Ramstein Airmen left Germany to honor our
fallen wingman, Airman Cuddeback. We return humbled.
Humbled by the honor shown in one small town in the
May God Bless Airman 1st Class Zachary
Ryan Cuddeback, his family and the United States of
By USAF Brig. Gen. Mark Dillon|
86th Airlift Wing
Air Force News
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