It seemed the entire town of Batesville, as well as many from surrounding areas came out June 20 to pay their respects to the family of 23-year-old Sgt. Chris Yauch.
Yauch, who was promoted to the rank of corporal after his death was killed June 11 in Jalula, Iraq. He lost his life from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. Yauch was an active duty soldier assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
The sea of red white and blue lining the streets leading into Batesville and to the North Heights Baptist Church stood as a solemn testament to the respect an entire community showed for another soldier who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Despite escalating temperatures of well over 100 degrees, the community came out in full force hours before the soldier was due to be laid to rest across the street at Roselawn Cemetery.
About 12 -15 Arkansas State Troopers as well as Independence County officers were present at the church in the event any problems occurred, but more importantly, there was a sea of well wishers outside the church.
Mark Brown and his wife stood solemnly displaying their signs and flags, they explained they had two boys overseas in the war and they just came out to show their respect for this family. Most did not even attend the service. They, instead stood in the boiling heat to show how much they love their country and those who defend it.
Rumors regarding protestors ran rampant in the county. At many service men's funerals a group of protestors from a church in Kansas have shown up protesting the war. No one wanted this for the family, so the county was taking all reports seriously.
The Independence County Sheriff's Department was prepared for any potential problems. Sheriff Alan Cockrill said some of the rumors may have came from reports from the honor guard who seen numerous people at a local hotel with signs and alerted the police. The signs were, in fact, showing respect and support for both the Yauch family as well as the United States military and would be displayed both outside the church as well as along the funeral route and at the cemetery.
Cockrill said it was, "Absolutely amazing the show of respect this county, Sharp County, and the surrounding area showed this family."
He said during the funeral there were several unsubstantiated reports of the protestors and each was followed up by an officer. Cockrill confirmed there wasn't one single protestor at the event, which encompassed the entire community.
Veterans came, some sitting in their cars for over an hour just to show their respect in some small way to the family. Others were clad in red white and blue bearing banners, flags and other colorful tributes to Yauch. Babies waving flags with red faces from the heat and young teenagers walked the distance in front of the cemetery handing out flags to anyone without one. One lady had her face painted like Old Glory. Many businesses stood with signs, everyone showing their pride and sadness for the loss. Noah Weaver from Cave City even made a sign, that said, "No Bomb Can Destroy the Love of the Lord." His mother said he made it himself and even created the saying. He held it proudly as oncoming traffic honked and many stopped to photograph him.
The Patriot Guard, a national group of motorcycle riders, along with several other local bike groups rode in an amazing formation with over 300 motorcycles preceding the funeral procession. Red white and blue was everywhere.
The Patriot Guard is a diverse group of riders from across the nation. Ride Captain Doug (Tiger) Odom said, "It doesn't matter if you don't have a motorcycle, some drive, we are just here to support the family." The Web site says, "We have an unwavering respect for those who risk their very lives for America's freedom and security. We don't care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you're a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn't matter where you're from or what your income is; you don't even have to ride. The only prerequisite is respect."
The main mission of the Patriot Guard Riders is to attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family and show respect for fallen heroes, their families and their communities. The group also serves as a shield for the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors through strictly legal and non-violent means.
Outside the church prior to the service, the Patriot Guard and other local motorcycle groups held full sized American flags along the length of the sidewalk. In the even there were protestors, these flags would double as shields to prevent the family of the fallen soldier from seeing the protestors.
Most of the massive group of supporters at the church and along the road to the cemetery did not know the family. Many stood outside the entrance of the cemetery as the hearse carrying Yauch's body inched its way to his final resting place. Tears from complete strangers, hands over hearts, salutes and flag waving were common place.
Yauch's wife Mallory gave this statement to the press regarding her husband, "My husband was my whole world. Without him my life is completely upside down. He had so many things he wanted to accomplish in life. He was in the process of being promoted to sergeant. He wanted to attend college, get a degree, and pursue a career in law enforcement. He wanted to add children to our family. Chris was a loving husband, son, brother, friend, uncle, cousin, and comrade. Without him I feel empty."
His father Kurt Yauch also offered a statement to the press, "Chris was doing what he wanted. He was proud of what he was doing and we were proud of what he was doing. He's a hero to everyone now, but he was a hero to me from the day he was born."
By the huge showing of support, his father's statement undoubtedly echoed that of everyone in the community ... he died a hero.