Saturday, June 02, 2007

Alex Varela laid to rest

FERNLEY - Empty riding boots sat atop Pfc. Alejandro "Alex" Varela's four-wheeler, a reminder of the passion the Fernley 19-year old enjoyed before his life was cut short in a war halfway across the globe.

Family, friends and elected officials gathered in the outdoor sanctuary at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley on Thursday afternoon to honor Varela and his sacrifice for his country.

Varela and five of his combat team members died May 18 when their military vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device south of Baghdad. They were all assigned to the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Defense.

"We have proof he loved us," Chaplain Bill Rohrer told the crowd of about 200. "The highest and greatest example of selflessness is the American soldier. Soldiers are our national treasure."

Fernley Mayor Todd Cutler told the crowd he was hesitant to respond to press questions about Varela's death when first asked and said he felt it wasn't his place to respond.

"I'm in awe of the overwhelming response to what this young man brought to us," Cutler said. "This war, and any war, isn't halfway across the globe - it's right here and affects all of us.

"I am certain this young man, a member of our community, our state, our armed forces, served us well. I thank Alex for all that he gave," Cutler said.

Rohrer introduced Varela's girlfriend, Pfc. Alexandria Avant, by saying, "Alex and Alex were quite an item." Avant, 19, is enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard and escorted Varela's father, Roger, into the ceremony.

In perhaps the most moving moments of the afternoon, Avant read a poem titled "My Military Soldier" that detailed the sacrifices many American soldiers make for their country. She lifted her tear-filled eyes to the crowd several times while reading the poem but was able to finish. After she left the podium and embraced Chaplain Rohrer, the crowd was visibly moved. Many wiped away tears.

Representatives from Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. John Ensign and Congressman Dean Heller read eloquent condolences and presented the family with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol.

Congressman Heller's representative admitted attending services for Nevada soldiers was hard because, "We don't know you, and you don't know us. There really aren't the right words to say. But we're thankful to you for raising a patriot. Your son is a Nevada hero, he was an American hero."

Chaplain Rohrer told those gathered Varela died while on patrol searching for soldiers taken hostage in early May.

"He was not lost to terrorism. His young life was given to a friend," Rohrer said. "Alex did not lose his life, he gave his life."

Varela's mother, Rinda Pope, and father were presented with Gold Star banners by the Fernley American Legion, followed by a rendition of "Amazing Grace" played on the bagpipes.

The Nevada Army National Guard Honor Guard solemnly unfolded an American flag. The startling pops of a 21-gun salute echoed across the cemetery, followed by "Taps" played by a lone bugler. The honor guard meticulously refolded the flag and presented it to Varela's father, Roger.

From the Nevada Appeal

Related Link:
Alex Varela remembered

Related Link:
Alex (Alejandro R.) Varela dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'