County stands by fallen Marine
EAGLE ” Local support for the family of Lance Cpl. Evenor Herrera materialized Thursday at a 24-hour tribute to the 22-year-old Marine killed in combat last week.
“I have never seen a community gather so quickly,” said David Stibbs, Herrera’s stepfather. “The offers we have received have been so great. I couldn’t separate it into races; Hispanics, whites and blacks have all come together.
“I’m very grateful everyone is pitching in so wholeheartedly.”
Herrera, a Gypsum resident and Eagle Valley High School graduate, died Aug. 10 from wounds suffered during the explosion of a bomb near Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He served in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The vigil continued through this morning at United Methodist Church in Eagle, where the body of Herrera lied in full uniform within a casket draped by the American flag.
A military funeral begins today at about 10 a.m., with a walking procession to Sunset View Cemetery in town.
Marines from Buckley Air Force Base guarded Herrera at the church, one standing to either side of the casket just within the doors of the chapel.
Veterans of Foreign Wars members stood at the entry of the church, taking turns meeting visitors and offering what they could to Herrera’s family. Member Tim Cochrane, a former Marine, said the tradition of Marines guarding their own is 230 years old.
“Since (the church) is a public place, we make sure nothing happens to him,” said Staff Sgt. Vidal Morales. Morales is charged with speaking for the family, meeting their needs and organizing Thursday and Friday’s schedule.
“We have a motto,” he said. “‘Take care of our own.’ “
Between shifts the Marines bunked at the local hotel or ate food served up at the Eagle fire department.
“This is part of our job,” Morales said. “We came Wednesday to give the news to the family. It’s an honor to be here, but it’s a hard job.”
Herrera is believed to be the first armed forces member from the Eagle Valley to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The close proximity has touched many residents.
“My first thought was this is something over there,” said Tom Kirk. “When one of our own comes home in a casket it makes it very real.”
Kirk, an Air Force veteran and local VFW member, served in Korea and Vietnam and spent 5 1/2 years in a prisoner of war camp.
“Everybody owes this country; this country doesn’t owe us,” Kirk said. “And every once in a while you have to put lives on the line.”
He has witnessed the local aid first hand. “In part I see the Latino community really coming together around the family,” Kirk said.
Family members and friends hunched in pews and tones were hushed. Others gathered within the chapel’s lobby. Among them was Mauricio Lagos of Gypsum.
Lagos hardly knew Herrera, but said it was important to honor him. His brother, Oscar Lagos, was Herrera’s best friend.
“He would always go to our house,” Mauricio Lagos said. “He would just be friendly to me.”
Army National Guardsman Israel Navarrete attended the vigil in full uniform. “Soldiers deserve to die with honor and as heroes,” the 18-year-old said.
Cochrane, whose daughter attended school with Herrera, said he had met the young man in the past.
“When he chose to go into the Marines it was special,” he said. “I think it typifies the youth in Eagle County.”
And shortly before sunset Thursday, more than 70 people ” most of whom were Hispanic ” gathered around Herrera’s body to hear the words of religious leaders, some of whom spoke in Spanish.
“The greatest love is shown when they lay down their lives for others,” said Mike McCarthy, quoting from the Book of John.
Another man sermonizing the crowd said, “Brother Evenor fought a good fight. Hallelujah,” words that were met with clapping and cheers of agreement.
Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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