It didn’t matter if a person served in the Marine Corps or in the Navy. It didn’t matter if a person had served at all.

What mattered, said Lori Lees of Peru, was that people showed up.

“We couldn’t just stay home,” she said of her and her husband, Charles Lee’s, attendance at Sunday’s procession for Marine Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, 22, of Logansport. “It’s hard to talk about without crying. But something like this, it just really registers home with you.”

Especially considering the couple’s daughter, Tara, served with the Air Force for six years. “We just want to thank her (Coral Briseño) for her son’s service and sacrifice for our country.”

Sanchez was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, California, and stationed in Jordan, where he was working as an embassy guard when his unit was reassigned to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.

On Aug. 26, a suicide bomber with 25 pounds of explosives entered the airport gate and took the lives of 13 military service members and approximately 180 Afghans. Sanchez was one of the fallen.

And on Sunday, thousands of people lined the streets from Grissom Air Reserve Base along Indiana 218 and U.S. 35 between Walton and Logansport, as well as along Main Street, Burlington Avenue and Market Street in Logansport, to welcome Sanchez home during a 90-minute procession.

Gloria Munson of West Lafayette said she and her husband, Ike, wanted to pay their respects. As parents of a son who served in both the Navy and the Air Force, she said there was no question — they would be in attendance.

Their son, Evan, was just 11 years old when the United States was hit with its worst homeland terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. From that moment on, he wanted to serve his nation, she explained, adding that he became a Navy pilot, eventually re-entering civilian life as a commercial airline pilot flying out of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

“It hits close to home,” said Charles Rybolt II of Kokomo, whose father served in the Vietnam War and who also took part in a military procession for his best friend, Ricky Jones, a Marine. “I feel like people are more patriotic now, especially when something like this hits close to home. He died protecting us. Coming out for the procession today is something small, but it’s something we can do when they’re bringing (Sanchez) home.”

Rybolt’s children, Abigail, 13, and Dominic, 7, joined him so they could understand what support means, he said.

Walton’s Blake Acord said his youngsters, Addison Strong, 9, Aiden Acord, 5, and Silas Acord, 3, came with him so “we could teach them what it means to show support, so they could start off young with learning about American history and not from a book.”

After all, life isn’t always learned behind closed doors. Sometimes, a person needs to get up and show up, according to Christie Fowler of Carmel. Making the hour-plus drive was a choice she went back and forth on, but she ultimately opted to go through the miles of construction work on U.S. 31 to find her way to stand alongside U.S. 35 in Walton.

Her father served in the Marine Corps in Korea, and she has a nephew who’s serving in the Army. So standing with fellow supporters is something she deems necessary.

“Doing the small things, like showing up at a procession, can make the biggest difference. And this is amazing,” said Fowler as she acknowledged the people gathered. “The way this world is now, and with everyone feeling so many emotions, this small-town community show of support is what this country needs and what this country is all about.”

Mary Plummer of Van Buren and her daughter-in-law, Jen Plummer, also of Van Buren, agreed. The duo, along with Mary’s son, Don Plummer, were visiting family and just leaving church when they decided to stop for the procession on Indiana 218.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” said Mary. “It’s great that so many people are showing such support. I think this is awesome.”

Teresa and Jeff Wohlford of Burlington were flabbergasted at the outpouring of support.

“This is incredible,” Teresa said. “This is how America should stand up.”

The couple’s son, Caleb Wohlford of Kokomo, was riding with the Patriot Guard for the procession. As Sunday morning progressed, the number of riders continued to increase: First it was 2,000, then 3,000, and soon 5,000.

When everyone was lined up and ready to go, more than 7,000 bikers participated.

It took the procession nearly 90 minutes, and of that time, approximately an hour was dedicated to the bikers who roared through Walton, Anoka and Logansport.

Their son was in the first third of the pack, said Teresa, who was emotional at the show of love and strength from everyone who welcomed home Cpl. Sanchez.

Recalling experiences when their son was stationed in Iraq for two years, Jeff said Caleb would often call at 2 a.m. when Jeff was getting off work from Tyson. It was 10 a.m. in Iraq, so the two could spend hours talking, which often provided Caleb with some much-needed parental strength. It also provided peace for Jeff, who worried about his Army son.

And worry is something every military parent knows all too well — no matter how long a child is serving.

Susan Plunkett’s son, John, graduated boot camp in May and is now at Camp Pendleton, California, with the Marine Corps. He earned two degrees from Purdue University, but “he wanted to serve,” said the Lebanon resident. “We’re proud of him… and this is a very emotional day.”

It’s a day of respect, said 15-year Army veteran Billy Jones of Indianapolis. When a member of the military is brought home, people should be there to welcome him, he said.

Kody Herbst, a nine-year Air Force member, and Jay Hight, who served with the Navy for four years, both of Peru, agreed.

“This is inspiring,” Hight said of the turnout, where approximately 1,000 people lined Indiana 218 and U.S. 35 near Walton, with an additional 2,000 from the outskirts of the southern Cass County town to Logansport.

“I think the only way this would have been a let-down is if people didn’t show up,” said Herbst.

U.S. Marine Kenny LoCoco of Galveston was pleased that lack of support was not an issue. He was glad so many from the area and beyond were willing to give their time to honor a fallen comrade.

Stephanie Neher of Walton said there was no other option. In fact, she brought her grandchildren because “this is something important for them to see,” she said, adding that her husband, Daniel Neher, is a Marine, which means that knowing Sanchez served in the Marine Corps added a personal significance to the day.

And knowing her sister, Kathy Garretson of Peru, works with Sanchez’s sister, Carol, bumps up the personal factor for Karol Martin of Walton as well. The family “needs all of the support they can get,” she said, hoping that Sunday would give Sanchez’s loved ones the care and strength they may need for the next few days, weeks and months to come.

The deluge of support is like nothing Walton’s Joyce Eshelman has seen since Robert Kennedy’s motorcade made its way through Cass County in the 1960s during his presidential campaign.

“I was 10 years old, and I hadn’t seen anything quite like that,” she said. “But today,” Eshelman continued, “this is absolutely phenomenal. This is small-town Americana at its best.”

Reach Kristi Hileman at kristi.hileman@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150

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