But any sense of joy and frivolity quickly turned to tears and solemnity as a convoy carrying the late Sgt. Jose Rodriguez, a Modesto resident who grew up in Gustine, rode through the circle — the impetus for the patriotic décor.
While most attendees said they did not know the 22-year-old sergeant who was killed in a June 19 firefight in Afghanistan, all came to honor him for his heroism and to express empathy to his family, as he left behind a wife and a 13-month old son.
“He will always be remembered as a man who fulfilled his contract,” said Mike Anderson, commander of the American Legion Post 168.
Anderson and other veterans joined local scouting groups, American Heritage Girls, elected officials and other local residents to pay their respects to Rodriguez, as did current military members, firefighters and law enforcement agents. Many Scouts and other young children waved small U.S. flags or held up signs as the procession drove by.
The roar of motorcycle engines filled Plaza Circle as more than 50 motorcyclists from the American Legion riders and the Patriot Guard Riders made up a large portion of the procession. The Patriot Guard Riders are a group of bikers who ride in military processions to respect armed service members who are killed in active duty and to protect military families from protestors at funerals.
Law enforcement agents, a military vehicle and fire trucks from the Gustine and Newman fire departments also traveled in the convoy.
Details of the procession route were coordinated Friday, June 29, and most Patterson residents only learned it would run through town via phone calls, emails and messages on social media websites.
Several attendees wiped tears from their eyes as they watched the procession, and dozens of veterans and scouts silently saluted as the hearse drove by.
“It’s an amazing show of support,” said Councilwoman Deborah Novelli, who helped get out the word about the procession late last week. “I’m so proud of our community.”
Novelli’s sons -- Ryan Wraa, 17, and Lucas and Marcus Wraa, both 15 -- were also on hand with signs they had crafted the previous evening. Those included one held up by Lucas that proclaimed “God bless Sgt. Jose Rodriguez. Never Forget. Thank you so much.”
Novelli said she and her sons turned off the television the previous evening and talked about the sacrifices that Rodriguez had made for his country and the sacrifice of other soldiers before him, and the loss his family had endured.
“When you lose someone in your family, it’s pretty sad,” Lucas said Saturday.
In addition, to Novelli, Mayor Luis Molina, a U.S. Marines veteran; and Councilwoman Annette Smith, whose nephew serves in the military in Afghanistan, stood along the downtown circle to welcome the convoy. Stanislaus County District 5 Supervisor Jim DeMartini also was in attendance.
Gary Rupe, a teacher for Patterson’s Open Valley Independent Study program, which is run through Del Puerto High School, helped coordinate the route as a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.
While the convoy also traveled through other parts of the county after traveling from Modesto City-County Airport on Saturday, Rupe said the response in Patterson was particularly impressive.
“It was just amazing going to that traffic circle with all those flags,” he said.
After getting to know Rodriguez’s family in recent days, Rupe learned that Rodriguez had decided in December to stay for another year in Afghanistan after his first tour had ended. He noted that job prospects in Modesto were dim and further military service would allow him to provide health care for his newborn son.
The 22-year-old soldier suffered a fatal wound in Maiwand in the Kandahar province last month when enemy fire hit him on the left side of his chest just above his tactical vest, according to Rupe and military reports.
Rodriguez leaves behind his 19-year-old wife, Maria Rodriguez of Modesto, his 13-month-old son, Octavian; his parents Margarita Rodriguez of Newman and Augustine Rodriguez of Mexico; and several other siblings who live in Newman, Keyes and Santa Nella.
Rupe noted that silence fell on the crowd at the Modesto airport as Maria, Margarita and Octavian Rodriguez touched his coffin after it was removed from the plane.
“His family said they were so grateful for people coming out. It made them feel like they were not alone,” Rupe said of the response from Patterson residents. “I feel like we can’t do too much for them.”
Rodriguez’s body was transported to Hillview Funeral Chapel in Newman on Saturday. A vigil service and rosary took place at Veterans Memorial Hall in Gustine on Monday, July 2. A funeral mass was at the Shrine of Our Lady of Miracles in Gustine on Tuesday, July 3, followed by burial at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.
View a gallery of the event at: http://pattersonirrigator.zenfolio.com/p409870988