OBERLIN — Armanda Ellis, a petite woman whose face showed the visible pain of grief, was quiet as she sat a few feet from her son’s casket Thursday.
She was flanked by more than two dozen family members and close friends. Most of the time, Ellis kept her hands in her lap and stared toward the flag-draped coffin of her son, Army Sgt. Louis R. Torres.
But when a new face entered the room at the Cowling Funeral Home in Oberlin, she mustered up a faint smile. She greeted each person, hugging those she knew and grasping the outstretched hands that led up to unfamiliar faces.
“Thank you for coming,” she said quietly.
There wasn’t much conversation inside the room. The air was thick with emotion. A soldier in his dress uniform stood just off to the side and kept a watchful eye over his fallen comrade.
For five hours, the public visitation served as a way for those wishing to pay their respects to do so. It is the only public memorial to the soldier. There will be a private service for family, friends and military members today at Rust United Methodist Church followed by burial in Westwood Cemetery in Oberlin.
When a soldier dies in war, the death serves as a catalyst that sparks myriad emotions in many people.
Family and friends naturally mourn the fallen hero’s life, and the impact the warrior had on their own lives.
Was he the jokester who kept them in good spirits or the serious one who they could always count on for solid advice?
In Torres, 23, who died Aug. 22 at the San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas after being injured 16 days earlier in Kandahar, Afghanistan, those who knew him said he was a little bit of both.
He was the kind of man who kept in touch with his family with calls, emails and Facebook messages, but he felt so compelled to join the military that he did so quickly after leaving high school, to the surprise of his mother.
Elaine Hershberger, 23, said she will always remember Torres as more than just the classmate she went through middle and high school with in Oberlin. Hershberger said high school was a rough time for her. She didn’t have many friends and was picked on because of it.
It was Torres — always bubbly and always outspoken — who came to her rescue.
“It was nothing for him to tell everyone to leave me alone,” Hershberger said Thursday as she left the calling hours.
With large, dark sunglasses shielding her face and a crumpled-up tissue in her hand, Hershberger said she was still in disbelief.
“It probably won’t hit me until (today), when we really say goodbye,” she said. “I mean, even if we didn’t see each other much, which was the case when he went to Lorain County Joint Vocational School, I always knew he was there for me. That was a given with him.”
American flags, in blazing red, white and blue, waved to and fro outside the funeral home as a stream of men and women walked with solemn expressions into the place where Torres’ body waited. Fellow soldiers who just wanted to honor Torres with their silent vigil stood just outside the door in tribute.
People with even the smallest connection to Torres filed into the funeral home and left reeling from the emotions they felt.
“This brought it so close to home,” said 25-year-old Sara Schneider.
The woman said she didn’t know Torres but was good friends with his older brother, U.S. Army National Guardsman Spec. Alberto Torres, who was pulled from the field in Afghanistan to accompany his brother from hospital to hospital until he arrived back in the United States.
Through Facebook, Schneider and the elder Torres brother kept in touch, talking about old times and connecting over a common bond — Schneider’s brother, Robert Schneider, was a Marine who just a few months ago finished up a tour in Afghanistan.
“I’m lucky he did come back and, at the same time, I am so proud of everything my brother is doing,” Schneider said. “My brother is whole and healthy … but I was on pins and needles for almost two years so I know how this family feels.” Schneider said Torres’ service and sacrifice are not in vain.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.