Community turns out in large numbers to remember Sgt. Tim Owens
They came by the hundreds to honor a hometown hero.
They were troops in uniform from several branches of the military. They were Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, students, moms and dads.
They arrived mid-afternoon Friday in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church on Cedar Street. Their mission — to line the streets of Rolla with more than 2,000 American flags in honor of Army Sgt. Tim Owens who was killed April 2 in a shooting incident at the Fort Hood military post in Texas.
Owens, 37, was among three soldiers killed when another soldier opened fire in the 1st Medical Brigade area at the post. The gunman, identified as Spc. Ivan Antonio Lopez, also wounded 16 people before committing suicide.
A funeral service for Owens will be Saturday at 11 a.m. with visitation starting at 10 a.m. at The First Baptist Church, followed by burial with full military honors in Lake Springs Cemetery.
Owens, of Effingham, Ill., attended Rolla High School in the 1990s and met his wife, Billy, here.
This is the 123rd time that Larry Eckhardt from Little York, Ill., has organized such an event to honor a fallen hero.
"We are going to try and pay a small tribute; however, it is not enough," said Eckhardt. "We are going to line the route from this church to out of town.
"I have been doing this for eight years. I attended a funeral in Illinois and there just weren't enough flags up," he said. "I do them for police, firemen and military. Military takes top priority."
Ryan Thompson, of Fort Leonard Wood's Public Affairs Office, estimated that there were several hundred soldiers who came to Rolla from the military post in Pulaski County.
Among them was Sgt. First Class Fatheree of the Military Leader Corps.
"This is not only important because he was another hero in uniform but also because this is a just cause," he explained. "We want to do anything we can to support our local heroes."
Eckhardt gave some brief remarks, thanking all those who came out to help from the back of his pickup truck and explained how it was going to work. Post-hole diggers were to plot a hole every several feet for the eight-foot flags to be placed in. It was then time to get to work.
Beds of pickup trucks were filled with dozens of flags and teams of workers headed off; first down Cedar Street and then north on 10th Street. The flags continue down Forum Drive/Pine Tree Road out to Highway 72. This will follow the route of the funeral procession from the church toward the burial site.
Eleven-year-old Boy Scout Jack Richards hoped to put up three to five flags. His dad, Joe Richards said it was important to be there and pay their respects to a fallen soldier.
Within 20 minutes,10th Street from Cedar Street to Holloway Street was lined with the red, white and blue.
Chip Schaffer, a retired Navy serviceman and Midwest area coordinator for Hope for Heroes, has been helping Eckhardt putting these memorial events on for the last several years.
"We go sometimes where he (Eckhardt) cannot go," he said. "It is an honor to do this. I can't imagine what the family is going through. It is quite sad. My heart goes out to them."
Owens's sister-in-law, Beth McWhorter was grateful to the community who took time out to show their respect. She thanked numerous flag bearers as they walked by.
"This is just awesome," she said. The state, the governor and the community are going all out for Tim," she said.
Owens's body was flown into St. Louis Lambert International Airport Friday and then escorted by the St. Louis and Rolla Patriot Guard Riders along Interstate 44 to the Long-Kloeppel Funeral Home in Dixon.
Missouri State Highway Patrol officers and nearly 100 Patriot Guard motorcycle riders escorted the hearse bearing the body of Owens.
Patriot Guard members shielded the hearse with American flags beneath the funeral home's carport as Owens's casket was removed. About 20 townspeople stood silently nearby, then applauded softly as the casket was taken indoors, according to the Associated Press.
Owens enlisted in the Army in June 2004 as a motor transport operator and did part of his training at southern Missouri's Fort Leonard Wood. He was most recently in the 154th Transportation Company in the 49th Movement Control Battalion in the 13th Sustainment Command at Fort Hood. Owens was deployed to Iraq from January to December 2005. Later he served in Kuwait from January to December 2010.