Apparently the haters failed to show Friday at the funeral of Pfc. Nathan T. Davis, 20, of Yucaipa, who died too young from a roadside bomb June 9 in Afghanistan.
And their absence was a good thing.
There was a rumor — never substantiated — that the haters from Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church burned an American Flag at a fast-food joint near the freeway and departed.
The haters may actually have served a useful purpose by helping to swell the number of people in and around the Yucaipa Christian Church, who had heard about the threat by the anti-military, anti-America Westboro group and its leaders to disrupt the funeral of Army paratrooper Davis, known to friends as Tyler. They came in droves to show their respect and condolences.
The crowd began to form early Friday morning and quickly began to grow. Cpl. Gregg Carpenter of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department was in control of the Bryant Street entrance to the church grounds and he gave an early estimate of the crowd outside. At least several hundred along Bryant, he said. It formed a living barrier to entry by any haters that might try to interfere. That crowd estimate continued to grow through the day as more supporters arrived until a final estimate I heard: close to a thousand. That was shortly before the procession began to form heading for Sunnyslope Cemetery in Beaumont.
It was a pleasure to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with and get to know some of the people of Yucaipa and others from throughout the Inland Empire, including active-duty service men and women in uniform, veterans and people of good will. The crowd was alive with the colors red, white and blue of the many American Flags large and small they displayed and waved to show their support.
It was a pleasure to meet Kathy Enright, 44, a Yucaipa mom, who talked about getting out the news to “Facebook friends, a core group of Yucaipians.” She introduced me to daughter, Holli, 18. Daughter Emily, 5, was at home. Enright also introduced me to her second and third cousins, Vanessa Rinard, 24, and her son, C.J. II, a very tiny tot shaded in his stroller. He’s named after his dad, also C.J., Corey J. Rinard, 27, who has been in Afghanistan for eight months with 14 more months to go before he can return home to Vanessa and C.J. II. He’s stationed at Base Ramrod.
The family group was gracious, too. Twice they insisted I take a seat in a lawn chair they provided, which I did for a few minutes each time. I guess they thought I looked a bit weary. I didn’t want to sit too long and be a bad example. It’s hard enough, I learned, for an 82-year-old to stand at parade rest and also take notes while trying to juggle a cane. I kept dropping the stick and people kept picking it up for me. I tried but they were quicker (and younger). I wore an old straw hat and a long-sleeved, white fisherman’s shirt to block the sun’s hot rays, but I notice as I type this that my hands are sunburned.
I brought two young friends along, one to drive and the other to take photographs. I’m pretty certain I couldn’t have handled either task alone. But they both seemed to have a good time, although it made the young man fashionably late to his mom’s birthday party. She forgave him and fed him well as moms are wont to do.
We left the church area a bit early to be at the Cherry Valley overcrossing of the 10 Freeway so that we could get photos of the dramatically long funeral procession as it passed below on the way to Sunnyslope Cemetery. When we arrived, we spotted a CHP car part way down the Beaumont onramp to the freeway. He was extremely considerate and helpful and (darn, I forgot to ask his name) told us that when got word the procession was nearing, he would turn on his flashing lights to signal that he was closing the ramp to traffic, while the procession was passing. It was considerate of him to let us know and I’d like to say, “Thanks, officer.”
It wasn’t long before a fire engine from the Cherry Valley station pulled to the center of the overcrossing and stopped. Its crewmembers from the Riverside County Fire Department and Calfire quickly unfurled a large American Flag and attached to the freeway-facing side of the truck, which it nearly covered. It was a show of support for the memory of the young soldier from the firefighters, Capt. Jeff Charbonneau, Engineer-Paramedic Chris Christensen and firefighter David Defraene.
Much of the procession had passed when the firefighters announced they had received an emergency call and would have to depart. They quickly took down the flag, asked spectators to stand out of the way and went into action. Business comes first for the Fire Department.
Soon we too had to leave, we had to get a young man to his mom’s birthday party.
Private First Class Davis' funeral was an important event. I’m glad I was there. And I was delighted to see all the others who came. Tyler has everyone’s respect around here.