Alerted by a news release from the Westboro Baptist Church announcing plans to protest the funeral of an Army Ranger, a crowd of thousands turned out Sunday to honor the young man who died in an attack in Afghanistan earlier this month.
The protesters didn’t.
“We want to be completely peaceful, and we want to just represent the country that he fought and died for by having the American flag out here to keep the signs covered,” Joseph Hedberg, a National Guard veteran, told KVAL.
The signs Hedberg referred to are the ones Westboro Baptist has made infamous by its protests at soldiers’ funerals throughout the country. The denounce the United States as a country steeped in sin, especially for its acceptance of homosexuality, and proclaim the deaths of soldiers to be a punishment from God.
This is how the church advertised its plan to protest at Patterson’s funeral.
And this is how the community responded:
With a turnout that included comrades-in-arms Patterson served with in the Army Rangers, as well as members of the National Guard who were gathered by a Facebook page Hedberg made — “OSU Supports Cody Patterson.”
With a detachment of Patriot Guard Riders, planning to discourage Westboro Baptist protesters but told they would “keep it professional” if any showed up.
And a crowd lining the streets to bear witness to Patterson’s sacrifice.
Every soldier’s death is tragic, of course, but Patterson’s was unusual in the forces it got caught up in, well beyond the Kandahar Province attack that took his life.
Patterson was one of five U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan the week the government shutdown began, and his remains were among those held up by the Pentagon’s decision to suspend “death gratuity” payments to the families of American combat fatalities.
His case, and those of others who died in the same attack, was taken over by the Fisher House Foundation, a private charity that normally assists the families of wounded warriors.
Check out the video of Patterson’s funeral. You just might be smiling and crying at the same time. If you find yourself smiling and wanting to cry, you’re not the only one.