Santa Rosa soldier's body returns home

June 2, 2008 7:57:26 PM PDT
There was a silent, yet gripping show of respect on Monday for a young soldier from Santa Rosa who died in Afghanistan. The body of 21-year-old Army Ranger Christopher Gathercole arrived home as his friends and neighbors lined the route.

For a grieving family and an honor guard at Sonoma County Airport, it really was all over, except for the waiting.

"What do you say to a family at a time like this?" asked ABC7's Wayne Freedman.
"'Sorry for your loss.' And let them do the talking," said Gary Greenough, from the American Legion.

A chartered jet contained the 509th American to die in Afghanistan. Army Ranger Chris Gathercole of Santa Rosa was 21 years old and a machine gunner who fell from arms fire on, of all days, Memorial Day.

"That guy put his life on the line and his life is gone now," said Billy Gregori a Vietnam veteran.

In Sonoma County, it has become tradition that when a soldier dies in the line of duty, people stand along the road to honor him.

"I would want people to show the same respect for me and my family," said Nancy Atherstone from Guerneville.

Atherstone and her husband, Jim Watson, have done this five times now and each with trepidation.

"We've had six years of hell," said Watson.

Their son John served two tours in Iraq in the Marines. Another son, Paul, just returned to that war zone a few days ago.

"It's been rough. Taking him to the airport wasn't easy. He even showed it. He normally doesn't," said Watson.

So imagine all the unsaid words and thoughts as yet another local solder returned to the airport on Monday. A combination of protocol, tears and dignity at arms distance.

Nobody said much, because at times like these, there is not much that anyone can say.

"You say move on. You move on, but it's still hard to move on," said Gregori.

On this day and so many others like them in so many other places, it's just a matter of being there to help bear a burden.

Formal services for Army Ranger Gathercole will take place on Sunday.


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