Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Nathan Hubbard remembered at candlelight vigil

Friends of U.S. Army Cpl. Nathan Hubbard hoped to release some of their grief by lighting candles in his name, but a deeper mourning hung over the full-moon vigil in the soldier's honor.

Hubbard, 21, who died Aug. 22 in a helicopter crash, was the second son in his family to fall while fighting in Iraq.

As high school sweethearts, soccer coaches and parents gathered Monday evening to remember the free-spirited former wrestler, the toll of war drew a little closer to this central California city.
Hubbard had enlisted at age 19 while still grieving for his older brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi in 2004.

“He wanted to see the life that Jared had there in Iraq. It was a way he could show his respect,” said Jena Brock, 20, of Clovis.

Organizers pinned red, white and blue ribbons on the mourners who gathered to pay their respects to the young soldier. Friends came wearing T-shirts bearing his image smoking a cigar in military fatigues and carrying a weapon. Some wore dog tags engraved with his name that said “Our Hero.”

“He looked like this big macho guy, but he was so sensitive,” said Shelley Croney, a cousin from Napa.

Hubbard's parents made arrangements Monday to receive his body and met funeral directors for the second time in three years, said Clovis police Capt. Drew Bessinger, a family friend.

“The good news of the day is they know when the remains of their son are going to be delivered,” Bessinger said. “On the one hand, they have questions answered. But because he's coming back, that presents a whole new set of traumas.”

The soldier's remains were scheduled to arrive at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport Wednesday, and funeral services were planned for Friday.

In the meantime, neighbors and friends lit candles and placed flowered wreaths around a stone fountain built outside the family's church to honor Jared Hubbard and his best friend, Marine Cpl. Jeremiah Baro, who died alongside him.

“Nate thought a lot about bettering himself and other peoples' lives,” said close friend Geryes Mansour. “If Nate were to speak through me he would have said 'Better yourself in your life.' Do it for him.”

Managers at A Secret Garden, a Clovis flower shop, ordered hundreds of extra flowers in anticipation of the memorial, and turned on a second walk-in cooler to hold arrangements of red roses, white carnations and blue delphinium.

“I just feel like we should be doing their weddings, not their funerals,” said manager Kimberly Woertendyke-Alvarez, who supplied the same wreaths for the elder brother's services on Veteran's Day 2004.

On Friday, a third brother, Jason Hubbard, returned home from Iraq to be with his parents, Jeff and Peggy Hubbard, his wife and child and his sister. He resigned as a Fresno County sheriff's deputy to join the Army when Nathan did and was assigned to the same unit as his brother, the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division based on Oahu.

When the Black Hawk went down last week, Jason Hubbard was part of the crew assigned to search the wreckage, said Tim Rolen, pastor at the New Hope Community Church.

He has since been given orders not to redeploy to a hostile fire zone, Bessinger said.

The Department of Defense doesn't collect statistics on the number of military personnel who ask to be removed from combat duty or are discharged from the military for compassionate reasons, a spokesman said.

But it was welcome news for Clovis, a city of 90,000 next to Fresno where seven men under the age of 25 have died in the Iraq war, said Mayor Bob Whalen.

“The fact that you've got the two brothers volunteering to carry on the work of their brother Jared touches people in a very meaningful way,” Whalen said. “No matter how much you put up those emotional defenses, there's nothing that can prepare you for the loss of two of these three Hubbard boys.”

Community leaders remembered Nathan Hubbard as a light hearted athlete who had an unwavering bond to his family.

Friends said his father, a 30-year veteran on the Clovis police force, taught him to live by the motto posted on his MySpace page: “Live, Love, Learn. Hope for the best, expect the worst.”

A message he posted before his death beneath a photo of the arm he tattooed with his brother's initials seemed almost an epitaph.

“As I take my last walk in your boots Guide me,” it read.

From the San Diego Tribune

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