Monday, September 25, 2006

Army Cpl. Casey L. Mellen

Remember Our Heroes

Army Cpl. Casey L. Mellen, 21, of Huachuca City, Ariz.,

Died on Sept. 25 in Balad, Iraq, of injuries suffered when his mounted patrol came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire during combat operations in Mosul, Iraq. Mellen was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, Wash.

Coming home: Fallen soldier Mellen greeted by mourners
Sierra Vista Herald, Sierra Vista Arizona ^ | Bill Hess

TUCSON — Case is home.

The body of Army Cpl. Casey Lee “Case” Mellen came back to Arizona around 2 p.m. Monday as a Navy cargo aircraft landed at Tucson International Airport and taxied to the executive terminal. Although it was a sad day, the soldier’s father, Casey Edward Mellen, said, “I’m happy my son’s home.”

The war is claiming many American men and women, he said.

Case is just one of the dead and is part “of all the future dead soldiers,” Mellen said.

It was not a political statement against the war, just a reality as GIs remain in harm’s way.

Case was killed Sept. 25, when his patrol came in contact with enemy forces using small arms near Mosul, Iraq. The elder Mellen said his son died in defense of freedom, and he and the family are proud of Case as a soldier, son, brother and uncle.

Monday was a long day for Mellen; Case’s mother, Regine McClammy; and his sister, Michelle Hall, and her son, the soldier’s nephew, Jason.

Waiting for a convoy to leave the senior Mellen’s Huachuca City home for the drive to Tucson, the mother was comforted by Pastor Tommy Simpson, who will officiate at Wednesday’s funeral on Fort Huachuca and at the burial at the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Sierra Vista.

Michelle held her 30-month-old son, whose middle name, Lee, is the same as his uncle’s.

The boy was oblivious to what was happening around him.

He did not know the small T-shirt he wore, which had his uncle’s photo on with an American flag in the background, was meant as a memorial for Case, as the family called the 21-year-old soldier.

As the living room filled with 35 members of American Legion Riders from Sierra Post 52, Michelle had to leave the area as tears flowed down her cheeks in heavy torrents.

It was a somber ride to Tucson, with Huachuca City Police Lt. J. Glowacki leading the convoy that included a hearse, a van carrying members of the Fort Huachuca honor guard, the casualty assistance officer, a chaplain and family members, a vehicle in which Huachuca City Mayor George Nerhan was a passenger, another vehicle with a Sierra Vista Herald/Bisbee Daily Review reporter and photography team and the American Legion motorcyclists.

The Navy C-9 was 45 minutes out from landing when the group arrived at airport’s executive terminal.

Soon the two-engined jet landed and made its way to the parking area near the terminal.

People stood under the terminal’s canopy to get away from the heat rising off the concrete tarmac.

A black and gold butterfly flitted around some bushes.

The color of the insect was the same as two stripes that graced the length of the Navy aircraft’s fuselage.

Far in the background, dust could be seen rising as a backhoe operator did some work.

A Southwest Airlines plane taxied behind the Navy C-9, its bright blue, red, orange and yellow paint scheme more brilliant than the Navy aircraft’s.

Two Fort Huachuca soldiers marched to the airborne hearse.

One carried the American flag, folded in its traditional triangle.

The flag was for Case’s casket.

Soon, a soldier from the Case’s unit got off the plane, he was the escort for the corporal’s remains.

Case was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), from Fort Lewis, Wash. Traditionally, the escorting soldier is from the same unit. Today, there will be a memorial service in his honor at the Washington state Army post.

The preparations over, a large cargo door on the plane opened and an automatic conveyor device, similar to ones used to remove baggage from commercial airplanes, was elevated to receive just one package — the one carrying Case’s earthly remains.

Soon, the red and white stripes of the U.S flag and the blue and white union, representing each state, became visible as the casket was placed on the conveyor.

Active duty soldiers at the airplane slowly raised their right hands in salute, leading one of the riders to order “present arms,” as his compatriots complied.

Except for a slight breeze rustling leaves on bushes under the executive terminal’s canopy, it was silent.

Even the noise of aircraft landing and taking off seemed muted.

As the casket was placed inside the Hatfield hearse, Maria Mena, Mellen’s future bride reached in and touched it.

The father did the same thing, seemingly holding on to the flag draping the coffin for a long time.

Pastor Simpson said the soldier’s mother and sister were asked if they too wanted to touch the coffin but they declined.

It was much too emotional at that time, he said.

The soldiers at the side of the plane lowered their salutes and the motorcycle rider directed “order arms.”

The fort soldiers, slowly led the hearse from the plane.

Following the vehicle holding Case’s body was Mellen and Capt. Kendrick De Vera, a Signal Corps soldier from Fort Huachuca who is the family’s casualty assistance officer. Mellen is a civilian employee at the Network Enterprise Technology Command. The rest of the family were driven in a golf-cart like vehicle.

As the small procession left the area, an American Airline plane passed behind the military aircraft, its red, white and blue fuselage stripes adding a touch of additional patriotism.

While the trip to Tucson was a convoy, the return was a cortege.

As the vehicles passed the entrance to Kartchner Caverns, a lone woman stood by the side of the road, holding an American flag.

Further down Highway 90, a man had his right hand over his heart.

As the vehicles entered Huachuca City proper, a number of people stood outside the town’s administrative complex. Some had flags and others stood at attention, with hats and hands over their hearts.

As the traffic continued down the highway a pair of Air Force F-16s passed over the hearse. While unplanned — they were in a training mode using the fort’s Libby Army Airfield for touch-and-go’s at that fleeting moment — it appeared as a salute to Case.

The cortege entered Sierra Vista, where people stood along Fry Boulevard, paying respect to a young man most had never met.

Monday was the first day of honors for Case.

Today, people may pay their respects to him at Hatfield Funeral Home from 6 to 8 p.m.

Wednesday, there will be a noon service in the Main Post Chapel on the fort, followed by burial with military honors at the Southern Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

When the burial is over, it will really mean Case is home — forever.

Army Cpl. Casey L. Mellen was killed in action on 09/25/06.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just passed your vehicle with your son's memorial on the back. So I looked him up and read what a great and brave man he was. May he rest in peace. God Bless you and your family always. #Uvalde,Tx #11-10-15