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Family, Patriot Guard escort soldier's body

November 12, 2009 2:47:27 PM PST
Thursday brought a somber homecoming for a local soldier who was killed in the Fort Hood shooting spree.Private First Class Michael Pearson was from suburban Bolingbrook.

His body arrived at Midway Airport Thursday morning and was escorted to a funeral home in Joliet by the Patriot Guard, passing several well-wishers.

Pearson's body was first driven through his hometown of Bolingbrook, where thousands waited to show their support.

The Patriot Guard, a caravan with family members, and a hearse pulled into the Illinois National Guard Hangar at Midway late Thursday morning. Two water cannons were fired in a salute to the fallen soldier.

An hour later, a military jet landed with the body of Pearson, who was one of the 13 victims killed in the Fort Hood massacre last week.

After the plane landed, Pearson's body was transferred to the hearse in the hangar and escorted to Bolingbrook by the Patriot Guard -- dozens of veterans on motorcycles honoring Pearson's memory. After a long trip down I-55, the motorcade exited in Bolingbrook, passed Pearson's home and then made a special trip to Bolingbrook High School. Pearson graduated from the school in 2006.

"We welcome them home and we send them off. It's just something that we feel that is the right thing to do," said Fred Vukadinovic, Patriot Guard.

"Seeing him in the hallway, he was just a very unique individual who always smiled and always said hello, and that always bodes very well when you're dealing with a young man, especially high school age," said Carolyn Toerpe, Bolingbrook High School.

While many on staff remember Pearson, current students were too young to be in high school when Pearson attended. Yet almost the entire student body lined the street and the school horseshoe. Some waved flags; others stood in silence as the hearse looped around the school.

"It's the right thing to do, to show gratitude for all the people fighting for us," said Mason Sheehan, student.

"It's sad. I didn't know him, but seeing people die for our country, it's tragic," said Kadime Imeri, student.

Onlookers with American flags also came to show their support.

"We home-school our kids, so this morning we just got ready and wanted to pay tribute to the family and just, in a way, share our own respect and thanks to them," Kara Schoenle said.

"I feel pretty bad, and I just want to honor the soldier that died for us," said Kara Schoenle's son Adam Schoenle.

"I was in the military, and I didn't do any combat or anything, but I love these guys. What a total sacrifice for our country, you know? What a sacrifice," John Howell said.

Earlier this week, Pearson's brother watched a memorial for the victims in Washington from his Bolingbrook home.

President Obama offered reflective words about all of the victims, including Pearson and Private Francheska Velez from Humboldt Park, who was also killed in the massacre.

Pearson had been away from home for a year preparing to be sent off to war. He loved to play the guitar and loved studying music.

"It was good to know people actually respect what they were doing, what my brother was doing," Kristopher Craig said.

After the procession through Bolingbrook, Pearson's body was taken to a funeral home in Joliet.

The wake is Friday and the funeral Saturday.

Pearson will be buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.

Army Private Najee Hull, of south suburban Homewood, may also be heading back to Illinois to recover from gunshot wounds he suffered in the Fort Hood massacre.

His mother, Yvonne, was with him at a military hospital over the weekend.

Hull, who is 20, suffered three gunshot wounds and Wednesday underwent a final round of surgery.

His family hopes he can return to Homewood to recover as soon as he's strong enough.


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