UPDATED 11/9/10 4:08 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – The body of a fallen U.S. soldier from Plainfield, killed by a bomb in Afghanistan, has returned home. U.S. Army Pfc. Andrew Meari, 21, was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Nov. 1, when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports that Meari’s body arrived at Midway International Airport on Tuesday, where an honor guard led a solemn procession to take the fallen hero through his hometown of Plainfield.
It was something his family believes he would have wanted.
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An Army honor guard was in place as the procession left their airport. The military accompanied the hearse all along the way, along with police, and the Patriot Guard Riders, local motorcyclists who traditionally turn out for the return of fallen soldiers.
Biker Fred Vukadinovic told CBS 2’s Mike Parker that “these are tragic times and we’re here to help in any way we can to take care of America’s son.”
Just before the procession reached Plainfield South High School, as many as a thousand streamed outside to stand, carrying flags, to show their respect for their former classmate.
The young GI’s Uncle, Todd Williams, talked about how Meari and another GI – Jonathan Curtis of Massachusetts, shielded others in their unit from an IED blast in Afghanistan.
“They hardly had any time to react,” Williams said. “But they did and they took the brunt of the explosion and thanks to them, the other soldiers, it sounds like they’re all going to make it. He was a hero for doing what he was doing. We’re going to miss him.”
Meari, a member of the 101st Airborne, was killed when an insurgent approached his platoon on a motorcycle. Meari saw the attacker and attempted to intercept him, in what his commanding officer said was a selfless act of heroism.
Also killed in the attack was U.S. Army Spc. Jonathan M. Curtis, 24, of Belmont, Mass.
“They were returning from patrol. Somebody rode up on a motorcycle, and Andy and Jonathan saw him turn, took a step toward him, and they detonated an IED,” Williams said, “and (Meari) shielded the blast from all the other people in his platoon. It sounds like some of them were really seriously hurt, but I think they’re all going to make it.”
Williams said the family is trying to remember the best of times.
“On the way down, we were talking about how my daughters and him would have games, and things that we were going to do. We were going to send some pennies with him, because he taught them how to have penny fights – just little things like that,” he said. “We’re trying to remember the good things.”
The procession took Meari’s body to his old high school, Plainfield South at 7800 Caton Farm Rd. in Plainfield, where his two younger brothers still attend. Three thousand students then gathered outside to honor Meari, who graduated just a few years ago.
Afterward, the procession took Meari’s body to at Fred C. Dames Funeral Home, at 3200 Black Road in Joliet, where his wake and visitation will be held from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday.
The funeral service, with military honors, will be at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, 20953 W. Hoff Road in Elwood.
Meari will be buried at Elwood National Cemetery.