Saturday, May 02, 2009

Army Spc. Jake R. Velloza

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Jake R. Velloza, 22, of Inverness, Calif.

Spc. Velloza was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; died May 2, 2009 in Mosul, Iraq, after being shot by enemy forces. Also killed was Spc. Jeremiah P. McCleery.

Contra Costa Times -- To ready himself for his son's funeral, Bob Velloza on Sunday visited the cemetery where the body of 22-year-old Jake Velloza, a casualty of the war in Iraq, will be laid to rest Saturday in West Marin.

He found a weed patch. The Olema graveyard where Bob Velloza's grandfather once tended each headstone meticulously was so overgrown that many grave markers couldn't be seen. It was no place to bury a fallen soldier who will be buried there rather than a guaranteed plot at Arlington National Cemetery.

"It was a disgrace," said Bob's brother, Mike Velloza. "He knew he couldn't have people parking in grass that's 5 feet tall."

So Bob Velloza spent all day cutting the grass and straightening things up. He was planning on heading back Monday afternoon from his home in Inverness to continue the work.

"He's on a mission now. We have to honor Jake," Mike Velloza said.

Family, friends and complete strangers will pay respects over the next several days for Inverness resident Jake Velloza, a U.S. Army specialist who was killed May 2 in an ambush in Iraq. He is the second Marin County resident killed in the war.

The Velloza family announced Monday that a funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Olema, not far from the Velloza family's plot where his great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents are buried. The burial will be shortly after the Mass and feature an honor guard from the U.S. Army.

Visitation and viewing of the body is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Parent-Sorensen Mortuary & Crematory in Petaluma, followed by a vigil and reciting of the rosary at 7 p.m. at St. James Catholic Church in Petaluma.

On Wednesday, the casket is to be flown from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on a private jet to San Francisco International Airport where it will be met at noon by Bob and Susan Velloza, Jake's fiancŽe Danielle Erwin of Killeen, Texas and other family members.

From there, a procession led by the Patriot Guard, a group of motorcycle riders and military veterans, will ride through the city and up Highway 101 to the mortuary in Petaluma. Marin freeway overpasses are expected to be packed with well-wishers from law enforcement agencies, fire departments and the general public.

"We would love to see the public out there with their flags where they can be seen from the freeway," said Lynn Tross, a Patriot Guard organizer who lives in San Rafael. "It just means the world to these families to see that complete strangers are out there and they care, that this matters to them."

Overpasses were packed with flag-waving mourners in 2007 when the casket of Novato resident Nicholas Olson, also an Army specialist, was delivered home for burial. One of those paying respects that day was Susan Velloza, Jake's mother, who stopped on Manuel T. Freitas Parkway in Terra Linda.

"I just felt compelled to be there on my own," she said Monday. "I appreciated other people paying their respects. É (On Wednesday) I expect to see a lot of support from my friends who will be up there for Jake. A lot of my friends will be in the procession on their bikes."

Bob and Susan Velloza are members of the Rip City Riders, a social motorcycling club with a Marin chapter that raises funds for a number of charities.

Jake Velloza, a 2004 Tomales High School graduate and former College of Marin student, was killed along with his close friend, specialist Jeremiah Paul McCleery of Portola (Plumas County), when a lone Iraqi gunman opened fire on a group of five Americans in the city of Mosul. American military officials have not released other details of the incident, but the family was told May 3 that Velloza was shot in the neck and died quickly.

Velloza, 22, and McCleery, 24, were both fire support specialists assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas. Both had been deployed to Iraq in December.

In his second tour of duty in Iraq, Velloza had been assigned to that unit since July 2006 when he first enlisted.

The Rev. Jack O'Neill is pastor at Sacred Heart in Olema, which can fit about 220 people in its pews. He visited the Velloza family the day the news was released as friends and neighbors congregated to support Jake's parents. That night, Bob and Susan Velloza departed for Dover Air Force Base to be present when the casket arrived from overseas.

"We are thankful that the Army now pays for families to fly back there for this kind of thing," Susan Velloza said. "The Obama administration made that policy change in early April, and I believe we were only the second family to benefit from it. It was amazing. We felt blessed to be able to do that."

O'Neill has presided over many military funerals. He is a veteran of the Navy and the Marines, serving 11 years with each, and served in such locations as Lebanon, Okinawa, Cuba, Antarctica and the Balkans. He said he understands why the Velloza family would turn down the opportunity to have Jake Velloza buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

"This is a West Marin kid and there is a West Marin spirit that makes them want to have it here," O'Neill said.

Army Spc. Jake R. Velloza was killed in action on 5/2/09.



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