ST. LOUIS – Of all planes coming and going from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, the arrival of a small jet Wednesday afternoon brought a crowd of hundreds. The crowd was there to give a solemn hero’s welcome for a Wentzville Marine killed in Afghanistan.
Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz was one of 13 U.S. service members killed on Aug. 26 in a terror attack outside the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan. He was 20.
FOX 2 observed as a Marine Honor Guard carried Schmitz’s remains into a hangar for a private family moment. Moments later, the casket emerged and was loaded onto a military Humvee to begin the 12-mile journey to Baue Funeral Home near I-70 and Cave Springs.
“It’s just the least we could do for this family,” said Rodney Bledsoe, the assistant state captain for the Missouri Patriot Guard Riders. “You’ll notice, you walk around here and you’ll see the people; their hearts are broken. And everybody’s grateful that they are here to support this grieving family.”
The procession started with the Patriot Guard Riders leading the way. Once clear, LCpl. Schmitz’s casket continued on the route, being saluted as it passed from thousands gathered along the interstate and on overpasses.
Army Sgt. First Class Koerrea Leonardo Rodriguez and Juliet Rose Brooks positioned themselves along the procession route to pay their respects to a fallen comrade. A loss that hits close to home.
“When a soldier goes down, it’s really hard. As a veteran who’s been there and came back safe, it’s hard,” Rodriguez said. “Considering we were closing out and this happened, it’s really a tragedy.”
Brooks added: “We have a bond, regardless of our military affiliation, to be here and to show that respect for the family and for the military in general.”
Dozens of first responders from across Missouri and Illinois followed the casket onto the highway. Drivers on I-70 stopped in both directions as a sign of respect as the motorcade passed on its way to the funeral home.
The tributes for Schmitz began overnight, with people turning out to put up around 3,500 flags to honor Schmitz and the other service members killed in that attack. There are 13 rows of flags, one row for each American service member killed in that horrific attack.
A heartbreaking homecoming for a hometown hero. A life lost in service to his country. A sacrifice we’ll never forget.
A public visitation will be held for LCpl. Jared Schmitz this Saturday, Sept. 11, at Baue Funeral Home in St. Charles from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. A private funeral service will be held on Sunday before the burial at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.