Guardsman's body returns to Midlothian

March 26, 2009 3:21:01 PM PDT
Hundreds lined the streets of suburban Midlothian Thursday to pay their respects to an Illinois National Guard soldier killed in action in Afghanistan. The body of Sergeant Christopher Abeyta returned home as part of a procession involving police officers, firefighters and the Patriot Guard.

Abeyta and two other soldiers from the same National Guard unit were killed when an explosive device hit their vehicle in Kot, Afghanistan, on March 15.

The procession began at Midway Airport, where Abeyta's body arrived at noon. It then went from Chicago to Midlothian. Along the way, several suburban fire departments lined up along the route to pay tribute. Once home, the procession was viewed by hundreds, including students from Abeyta's high school.

With the sun shining over Midloathian, flag carrying residents lined the streets to honor Abetya. Shaireen O'Brien is a retired Marine and a mother of a soldier. O'Brien didn't know Abeyta but felt she needed to be here.

"My heart goes out to Chris's mom. My son has been overseas three times. I can't imagine what she is going through," said O'Brien.

Abeyta and two other Illinois National Guard soldiers were killed last week in Afghanistan when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. Abeyta's body returned to Midway Airport Thursday with a private tribute. It was followed by a long procession from Chicago to Midlothian, where hundreds of residents waited, including Heather Dial. She was a close friend of Abeyta's.

"He always put on a smile and said don't worry I'll be back," said Heather Dial, friend.

Led by the Patriot Guard Riders, Abeyta's body slowly passed through town. There was silence as people saluted, held their flags high and held their hands to their hearts.

"I think Chris deserved this; he was a dedicated soldier, wonderful human being," said Deborah Mireles, friend.

The solemn procession passed Bremen High School, where Abeyta was a 2003 graduate. It then turned around and made another pass through town.

"It's still surreal to see him drive by like that. He did what he loved. I can't think of a better way to send him off than like this," said Nick Mireles, friend.

A wake will be held Friday for Abeyta. A funeral follows on Saturday.

Only 23 years old, Abeyta was Barbara and Paul Abyeta's only child. Because Abeyta did not have a wife or children, his parents are setting up a memorial fund for the children of another solder who was killed with Chris Abeyta.