Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Brian Escalante laid to rest

FORT DODGE - That infectious grin.

Brian Escalante's military-issue photograph - like all such pictures - depicts a grim-faced military man, someone not apt to put up with much nonsense.

But as the 25-year-old Marine who grew up in Dodge City was laid to rest Tuesday, those who knew him drew a different picture, remembering his pearly white grin, his playful side and his quiet but gentle demeanor.

"He had such a big smile," recalled Daniel Nguyen of Newton, an in-law who thought of Escalante as a brother.

"He was always joking around, a comedian," chimed in Dennis Nevares, a cousin from Amarillo, Texas.

Escalante, a lance corporal, died Feb. 17 while on a combat operation in the Al Anbar province of Iraq after a roadside bomb blew up under his Humvee. Family, friends and others filled the pews at Dodge City's First Baptist Church for his funeral services, and he was buried at Kansas Veterans Cemetery in nearby Fort Dodge.

"Brian was a young man who loved life, a young man who loved his family and a young man who was proud of being a Marine," said the Rev. Dan Rhodes of First Baptist, who presided.

Still, the sobs and tears were plentiful, and the Rev. Jeff Turner of First Missionary Church, who helped officiate, called on Escalante's loved ones to hold on to their memories of the man as they struggle forward. Wife Crystal Escalante, 2-year-old son Aidyn, his parents and seven siblings survive.

"Over the next few days, weeks, months and beyond you'll go through a flood of different emotions, and that's normal," said Turner. "Be proud of the man he became while serving as a United States Marine."

Comments outside

Tuesday's ceremony unfolded amid calm, with around 110 members of the Patriot Guard Riders waving U.S. flags outside First Baptist during the funeral services. The Patriot Guard Riders, most of them motorcyclists, attend funerals all across the nation as a show of respect for fallen soldiers and their families.

"This country wouldn't be what it is ... if it wasn't for people like Brian, 200 years ago all the way up till now," said Stacia Crowley, a Guard rider from Dodge City who stood outside First Baptist. "He's a Marine, and he's the same age as my kids."

A block away, guarded over by seven law enforcement officers, three protestors from Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church worked to get their message out. The Westboro group, scorned by many, believes a vengeful God is behind the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and members protest at funerals all across the country.

"There's a dead soldier down there, and he's dead at the hands of an angry God because this country has given itself up to every filthy abomination it can commit," said Paulette Phelps, one of the trio on hand Tuesday.

Spirit will live on

Inside First Baptist, meanwhile, Escalante came to life as he was recalled and recounted. Family members say he was quiet but seemed to blossom after joining the military.

"That helped him open up," said Rhodes. "He was a dedicated soldier, and he loved the Marines."

Still, that's not the end of the story. He liked basketball and his prized Mustang automobile, and sister Ida Escalante, whose remembrances were recounted by Rhodes, recalled her brother's love of professional wrestling.

After watching wrestling on television, Escalante, Ida Escalante and their other siblings, as children, would hold tournaments of their own. "Brian was always Andre the Giant or sometimes Hulk Hogan," said Rhodes.

Nguyen, the in-law, remembered Escalante's love of video games while Nevares spoke of his cousin's even demeanor. "He got along with everybody," Nevares said.

Going forward, Rhodes said the Marine's spirit will live on, even as his body is put to rest.

"We're going to miss him, but we're going to allow him to live on through us," he said.

From the Hutchinson News

Related Link:
Brian A. Escalante dies of injuries from I.E.D.