Wednesday, October 03, 2012

TOP STORY >> Farewell to fallen soldier

Leader staff writer

One thousand supporters lined the streets Saturday in Beebe from Westbrook Funeral Home on Dewitt Henry Drive to First Baptist Church on Hwy. 64 and waited a couple of hours to put their hands over their hearts for Army Sgt. Jason Swindle.

Swindle, 24, of Cabot died in Afghanistan on Sept. 20 when he was attacked by a rocket- propelled grenade while on patrol, according to a Department of Defense news release.

The sergeant was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.

Most of the crowd gathered in front of the church as the funeral was held inside.

Several of Swindle’s relatives rolled down their car windows as they passed by on the way to Meadowbrook Memorial Gardens Cemetery. They waved and thanked the people — some knew Swindle, others did not — for honoring him by dressing in red, white and blue and holding American flags.

Five or six supporters noticed drivers passing the procession because it slowed traffic to a crawl.

They took a large flag and formed a human barricade across one side of the road.

Jennifer Mathis was proud to be a part of that group.

“God bless America and my right to stand in the middle of the road. He died for that right. We did it out of respect for that soldier and his family,” she said.

Swindle’s cousin, Cindy Johnson, said, “It’s heartbreaking. This is so overwhelming to me, the support that has been shown to the family. I’m flabbergasted.”

Chandra Rodgers said some of her friends are part of The Silent Few, a Little Rock-based motorcycle club. The Silent Few was just one group that made up the hundreds of bikers who escorted the sergeant and his family from the funeral to the church and to the cemetery.

Rodgers said, “They support the troops in everything they do.”

Michele Shaffer, another supporter, said, “If it weren’t for them, the war would be here, not somewhere else.”

J.B. Martyrs, president of the Martyrs Motorcycle Club, which is based in Searcy, said, “We’re trying to support one of our troops. They’re real important to us.”

Senior Airmen James Urban held one side of a large flag as he waited for the procession to pass. He said he had just returned from Arizona and hadn’t slept in 24 hours, but this was important.

“I’m here to show my respects,” Urban said.

A supporter who didn’t want to be named said, “It’s not too much for us to take a few hours on a Saturday to support the family when the military gives up their lives for us.”

The Patriot Guard Riders came out in force to help the family.

They are part of a loose organization that formed to neutralize the presence of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, which says soldiers die because of America’s sins, especially homosexuality.

Its members were expected to protest at the funeral, but they were nowhere to be seen.

Several supporters said they heard the protesters don’t show up when all of the Patriot Guard Riders attend a service. An unconfirmed rumor is that a local radio station offered the church airtime in exchange for not attending. Some of the crowd said the station told listeners to avoid tuning in while the church was on the air.

Others claimed city police and sheriff’s deputies, which were at the event in more than a dozen patrol vehicles, kept the church members out of sight.

A couple of officers escorted two men who were carrying signs with nonsensical messages like, “Nickleback dooms nations.” Nickleback is a well-known rock band that was established in the 1990s.

They said their posters were satirical criticism of the church.

The Cabot High School Air Force JROTC will hold a special flag presentation at 4 p.m. Monday at Veterans Park. The students will present a flag to the family.