A handful of planes flew over the Joint Forces Training Base on Thursday morning, but to the 1,000 people gathered to honor a fallen soldier, only one truly mattered.
Amid the peal of jet engines, the aircraft carrying the body of Sgt. Thomas R. MacPherson, a Long Beach native and Los Alamitos High School alum killed in battle in Afghanistan, touched down at 11:45 a.m.
Before the aircraft landed, a crowd of veterans, soldiers, local dignitaries, friends, family and residents gathered on the tarmac with flags whipping in the breeze.
James Smith, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7243, said he appreciated the turnout to honor MacPherson because the public doesn’t always remember the service of U.S. armed forces.
“After the shooting's done, then they forget about the military, so it’s nice to see this."
A collection of emergency vehicles, motorcycles and police vehicles also gathered at the scene. A large American flag hung in the breeze from one of the base's fire engines.
Then the white jet landed, and the crowd fell silent.
The door of the jet opened, and the crew set up the machinery to lower MacPherson to the tarmac.
The 26-year-old was honored by a sea of salutes: Members of the Army Rangers, the California National Guard, the Army Reserves and local firefighters and veterans put their hands to their heads to honor MacPherson.
Family members walked toward the casket, a shining silver coffin draped in the red, white and blue of the American flag.
A man carried MacPherson’s young son, 17-moth-old Brayden. Family members put their hands on each other's backs. In the silence, they wept openly. MacPherson’s wife, Claudia, took her son and stood close to the coffin for a few moments, tears pouring down.
Then, an Army honor guard of eight soldiers carried the casket to a black hearse.
After the Hero Mission ceremony, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department motorcycle officers led a procession to Forest Lawn cemetery in Cypress.
The flag of every American state hung along the base’s main road, and the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of veterans that honor members of the military, followed the procession on their motorbikes.
A swarm of police cars and emergency vehicles followed the riders. Hundreds of students and residents gathered outside Los Alamitos High School to watch the procession pass.
Maria Cowles of Seal Beach, whose father retired as a Major in the Air Force Reserves and served as a Lieutenant who navigated B-17s, and whose husband is a Vietnam vet, said she felt it was important to honor MacPherson.
She said her son Patrick attended school with MacPherson: McCauliffe Elementary and later Los Alamitos High School.
She said her son didn't know him very well, but if she could speak to the family she would say this:
“Thank you for the sacrifice. He’ll be in our hearts, and the family will be in our prayers and thoughts.”
MacPherson, 26, was killed by small arms fire in the Ghazni Province in Afghanistan as he led an assault against an enemy position, U.S. Army officials said.
MacPherson was a team leader assigned to Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. This was his fourth deployment to Afghanistan and he had also previously served one deployment in Iraq. He is survived by his wife and their son of Tacoma, Wash., and his parents, Troy and Diona MacPherson of Long Beach.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 26 at Cottonwood Church, 4505 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos.