Public pays respects as body of slain soldier returns to New London
A chartered jet descended from a cloudless blue sky to bring the body of Army Pfc. Ryane Clark home Thursday. Clark was killed Oct. 4 while deployed to Afghanistan.
The twin-engine Falcon 20, owned by Kalitta Charters of Ypsilanti, Mich., touched down at Willmar Municipal Airport at 12:25 p.m. Clark's body was accompanied by two services members from the Army and Marines. Among the dozens of people at the terminal were 38 members of the Patriot Guard Riders who provided a color guard in front of the terminal.
Also present were members of Boy Scout Troop 228 of New London, where Clark earned his Eagle Scout, members of the Blue Star Mothers Minnesota Chapter No. 1 holding a red, white and blue banner, and members of the New London, Atwater, Pennock and Willmar fire departments and the Kandiyohi County Rescue Squad and their vehicles.
All stood quietly as the flag-draped casket was lowered from the plane and eight soldiers from among 11 volunteers from the Army's 27th Engineer Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C., stepped in time as they carried the casket and placed it in the hearse.
Family members tearfully hugged one another and then they and extended family members boarded vans and a coach bus provided by Peterson Bus Service for the ride to New London.
Members of the Patriot Guard, along with the rescue squad and fire departments, joined the family members in the procession as it departed the airport at 12:55 p.m.
The procession moved along state Highway 40 and traveled through Willmar along Willmar Avenue.
Nearly 900 Willmar Middle School students stood respectfully in front of their school Thursday to honor Clark. Principal Mark Miley said they had planned the tribute for several days.
The procession then went north on County Road 9 past Willmar Senior High where about 250 students from the school's social studies classes gathered to honor Clark, and a student musician played taps as the hearse carrying Clark's body passed by.
The procession then went through Spicer to New London along Highway 23. Clark's funeral will be Sunday at New London-Spicer High School.
Across Willmar Avenue from the Middle School, several dozen people waited for the procession to show their respect for Clark and his family.
Cash Wise Foods placed a large red, white and blue bouquet along the street, and many employees came out of the store to stand around it holding flags.
Many mentioned the impressive sight of the hundreds of students across the street.
Most had the same explanation for their presence as Anna Leppala of Willmar, "to show our support for the family mainly. They need all the support they can get right now."
Leppala and Shera Odland of Willmar had walked over from their jobs at Midwest Vision at the Kandi Mall. Odland graduated from NLS with Clark's sister.
Steve Fladeboe of Spicer said he was there for the family, "just because I'm an American, and we both have children."
Tonia Nelson of Willmar, a Community Education employee, said she wanted to honor the family and "let them know how much we appreciate what they do."
After the tribute, Miley said he was very pleased with how the school's tribute had gone.
"Our kids did a wonderful job," he said. "It's honoring this young man, and all the others, too."
A number of people in the school know the Clark family and wanted to honor him, he said.
"We had an idea," he said, and the family agreed to change the procession route so that it would pass by the school. Teacher Ann Hendershott and office secretary Lynette Cors organized the tribute, along with others.
"It just worked out perfectly, and it was so important for the kids to see it," Hendershott said.
Teachers read an announcement about Clark on Thursday, so the students would know something about the man they were going to honor.
The students talked about the tribute all day -- "They wanted to do this," she said.
Miley said students were not required to participate in the tribute if they thought they couldn't handle it or had other personal reasons. Fewer than 20 students stayed behind in the school's media center.