LORAIN — Thousands lined the streets in Lorain on Wednesday to pay their respects and to say goodbye to another fallen son.
As the hearse carrying the casket of Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes passed along its route on Oberlin Avenue, people flocked onto the tree lawns of businesses and homes to express their thanks and condolences for his sacrifice.
Barnes, 20, had lived in Lorain, and graduated from Admiral King in 2004 before enlisting in the Air Force a year later.
He was killed June 10 by an improvised explosive device while on convoy duty in Iraq.
Barnes’ body was escorted down an Admiral King High School hallway Wednesday after a private memorial service inside the high school’s auditorium.
Family and friends followed close behind, holding hands and wiping tears as bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.”
In one hand, Barnes’ mother, Shary Barnes, clutched a single red rose while Air Force officers wearing their dress blues loaded her son’s casket into the hearse.
Barnes’ father, Tom Barnes, watched stoically behind sunglasses, grasping his wife’s other hand.
The procession left the school and headed south along Oberlin Avenue, driving under large American flags draped from the extended ladders of Lorain fire trucks.
People young and old stepped close to the curb. Some held flags, while others simply held their hands over their hearts. At least 3,000 people, maybe more, lined the streets to honor Barnes, according to Lorain fire officials.
Scott Harris, of Avon Lake, had met Barnes briefly when his 21-year-old son, Pat Harris, signed up through the same Air Force recruiting office in Elyria. As he stood along the procession route, he recounted the day when the recruits were sent off to their bases.
“They all looked the same,” he said. “They looked like they were all too young to be going away.”
Members of the Admiral King varsity girls’ basketball team stood with their jerseys on, holding letters spelling out “Thank You Eric” as the procession passed.
They were standing across from Willow Hardware, one of the 21 businesses they’d contacted the day before to see if signs could be changed to reflect a special message to the Barnes family.
“We’re showing support because it’s the right thing to do,” Damaris Ortiz, 16, said. “He went to our school.”
The outpouring of support warmed the heart of Mayor Craig Foltin, who spoke at the funeral. Foltin expressed the city’s gratitude for Barnes’ service by proclaiming the day “Airman 1st Class Eric Michael Barnes Day.”
Foltin said Barnes’ commitment to Lorain was evident in his service as an Eagle Scout, while his long list of medals made him one of Lorain’s most-decorated war heroes.
“While it’s a sad day for the city,” he said following the funeral, “it’s a day we can take great pride in, knowing that we had someone born, raised and educated in our city to represent Lorain in a way few ever had.”
The procession fed into North Ridge Road’s Elmwood Cemetery, where family and friends circled around Barnes’ casket underneath a blue tent for his memorial service.
Just beyond, 26 American flags held by the American Legion’s Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group flapped.
The calming westerly breeze filtered through the leaves of the surrounding trees before the honor guard’s 21-gun-salute penetrated the silence, accompanying Barnes to a final resting place.
Contact Steve Szucs at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE PHOTOS
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders hold American flags during funeral services Wednesday for Eric Barnes at Elmwood Cemetery in Lorain.
|Video of the funeral service for Airman 1st Class Eric Barnes.|