Oregon community turns out to support family of fallen soldier
By KAYLEE TORNAY | Mail Tribune | Published: March 3, 2020
EAGLE POINT, Ore. (Tribune News Service) — American flags lined the roads of Eagle Point almost the entire way up to the National Cemetery Monday: a soldier’s welcome home.
On either side along the path to the committal shelter where family and friends of Army Specialist Branden Kimball awaited the 21 year-old’s ashes, veterans old and young held more flags. Other spectators stood on the gentle green slope adjacent, watching.
Tony Milner, one of the silent onlookers, never met Kimball, nor had he spoken with any of his family. Coming, he said, was an act of support.
“It’d be terrible if the family was here and nobody showed up,” he said. “It’s good to see people here.”
Milner was just one of many among the approximately 150 people honoring Kimball, who died Feb. 12 in a non-combat-related incident in Afghanistan, who wasn’t personally connected to the young soldier. For many of those strangers who attended, the explanation they gave was three words long.
“I’m a veteran,” said Jay Milton, who served in the Air Force from ’74 to ’78.
Milton, as do many veterans of the armed forces, attends multiple funerals for fallen soldiers each year, paying tribute to their service and their families’ losses.
He took a personal day from work to be able to attend Kimball’s funeral.
“It was worth it,” he said.
News of Kimball’s passing hit him particularly hard, Milton said, because he has a son named Brandon. That, and Kimball’s age, “brought a tear to my eye,” he said.
The tears came back as the funeral procession moved from the Central Point funeral home to Eagle Point, when community members and students greeted the convoy, some drivers pulling off the road to salute.
After the final shots of the salute rang out, Kimball’s family received the folded flags from military officials before walking over to where his ashes would be placed. Kimball is survived by his mother and three brothers, according to his obituary.
He joined the Army in 2016, serving as an aviation structural repair specialist. He enjoyed playing video games, his family said.
Rob Neff, funeral director with Conger-Morris, helped gather flowers and photos of the Crater High School graduate from the shelter to deliver to the mourners when they returned to their cars.
Members of the veterans groups who had turned out for a flagline at the request of family members lingered after the memorial service ended, swapping stories and introductions.
Like Milton and Milner, Floyd Mckenney, Layne Miller and Pat Allen, all members of the Old Guard Riders, have been to more than their fair share of military funerals.
“I’m a vet,” Mckenney said. “And I kinda want to give back.”
They help bury veterans who have died and go unclaimed by kin, making sure they receive proper military funerals. The group also serves surviving veterans with barbecues and other events.
They want every member of the military and their family, including Kimball’s, to know their sacrifice and service isn’t in vain, they said.
“As long as they’re a veteran and their family needs us, we show up,” Mckenney said.