Tuesday, September 25, 2007

John Mele has services ahead of burial at Arlington

A small chapel in Brannen-Kennedy Funeral Home was filled with members of the Glennville community Saturday who wanted to pay their final respects to an adopted son.

Army Sgt. John Mele, 25, was killed by an improvised explosive device earlier in September while serving in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division.

With flags flying at half mast and other colorful flags lining the streets of the business district, an estimated 150 people from this tiny town in Tattnall County turned out for Mele's memorial service.

The 3rd ID soldier was described as a "very nice guy" by his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Charles Hall. He told a story of how Mele wanted to learn how to be mean - which drew laughter from those at the solemn service.

"I kind of looked at him with a wide grin, put my arms around him and told him: 'You came to the right guy, buddy. I got you covered,'" Hall said.

He described Mele as a caring individual who was quick to lend a hand and who cared deeply for his family.

The Rev. Vance Riggins, pastor at Glennville United Methodist Church, reminded everyone on hand why Fort Stewart exists, along with similar military installations throughout the United States.

"Men and women are ready to be deployed for the cause of peace," Riggins said. "Sgt. John Mele was one of these instruments for the defense of peace."

During the memorial service, which lasted about 40 minutes, Riggins told the group that Mele was where he felt he needed to be when he sacrificed his life.

"John loved what he did, and he died doing what he loved best - being a soldier," the pastor said.

As the service ended, members of a local veterans group rose from their seats and saluted to a symbolic urn and an American flag at the front of the chapel.

Mele's remains were in Dover, Del., on Saturday, awaiting transport to Washington for burial with honors Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, which is across the Potomac River from the nation's capital.

As Mele's window, Jennifer, exited the funeral home's chapel, she was overcome with grief and held a handkerchief to her face. Mele also left behind a 6-year-old daughter, Clarissa.

Outdoors, where it had been raining, the precipitation subsided long enough for a group of two-dozen men and women called the Patriot Guards to form two lines along the street as they held flags aloft.

As the Mele family drove in a white limousine between the two lines, each of the Patriot Guards saluted in honor of the fallen soldier.

"It means everything for us to be here," said Gene Altman, Georgia state captain of the guards. "It's an honor for us to be here. We're here to be the face of America."

The group, which has thousands of members nationwide, attends the funerals of fallen Iraqi soldiers and veterans by invitation, providing comfort and support during the survivors' darkest hours.

Altman said they are not paid for their tributes to fallen service members - the gratitude expressed by family members is always enough.

"We get paid from the family when the family is leaving and they look at us and say thank you," he said.

Mele was killed Sept. 14 in Arab Jabour, Iraq, when a roadside bomb detonated near his unit during combat operations.

A combat engineer, Mele was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment in the 3rd Infantry Division. He had been stationed the past five years at Fort Stewart. He was on his third deployment to Iraq.

The Meles resided in Glennville, which is about 30 miles west of the Army post. His wife's parents, Corene and Lloyd Jones, had sold their home in Daytona Beach, Fla., and moved to Glennville to be closer while Mele was deployed.

Lyn Allebach, Mele's sister-in-law who traveled from Jacksonville, Fla., for the memorial service, served as the family spokeswoman Saturday.

"This has been very hard for my sister Jennifer," Allebach said. "But with the strong show of support from the community, it has made it easier."

She recalled the last time she saw Mele as he was getting ready to deploy to Iraq in May.

"We all saw him off," she said as she struggled to fight back tears. "I told him: 'Now, you come back. Don't leave my little sister alone.'

"It's not his fault, but she's alone."

From the Savannah Morning News

Related Link:
John Mele dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat operations'