Santa Rosa soldier remembered at memorial

June 8, 2008 6:47:07 PM PDT
More than 1,000 people came together for a somber farewell in Santa Rosa today as Army Ranger Christopher Gathercole was laid to rest. The death marks Sonoma County's first loss from the war in Afghanistan. While hundreds turned out to pay their respects, members of a Kansas church threatened to protest, but not because they're against the war.

The mere fact that members of the ultra conservative Kansas church intended to picket this memorial infuriated local residents. That may be the reason that almost 1,000 showed up at Army Ranger Gatehrcole's memorial. They wanted to make sure their hero's burial would not be desecrated by protestors.

Santa Rosa residents turned out in the hundreds to honor one of their one fallen soldiers. Army ranger Chris Gathercole was killed by small arms fire while serving in Afghnistan. Mourners came on motorcycles, cars and on foot to the Santa Rosa Memorial Park. brought his two toddlers.

"I felt it really strongly to come to this on account of my kids. I want them to know and to understand the sacrifices that are made for the service of our country," says local resident Gary Collins.

While Collins' children may be too young to understand the significance of this memorial, the sacrifice that Gathercole made was not lost on the more than 100 veterans of other wars who came to honor his memory, like Indian Dan, a Vietnam vet.

"To pay my respects to a name that's been added to the honored rolls," says Dan.

Other members of the Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group composed of former vets, say they came to fend off a protest by members of the Kansas Westboro Baptist Church. It's an anti-gay church which blames recent natural disasters, 9/11 and the war as gods punishment for America's values. A video was caught by Street Pastor Rudy Gonzalez as a few of those church members picketed local churches Sunday morning.

Santa Rosa police followed them wherever they went and apparently dissuaded them from picketing the Gathercole memorial.

"Protests at a funeral for crying out loud," says Indian Dan.

Army Ranger Christopher Gathercole is the first Santa Rosa soldier to be killed in Afghanistan. His memorial with military honors went off without incident. The family was given the privacy and honor they deserved.

Santa Rosa has a history of coming out for its soldiers killed in action, but the sheer numbers of this crowd stunned Marlene Avles, for whom this was the first memorial she's ever attended.

"I thought it was incredible, if they were all close put together it would be hundreds and hundreds maybe a thousand," says Avles.

Army Ranger Christopher Gathercole was the 509th soiler killed in Afghanistan. He is survived by his brother, father and mother.


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