Mark Forester’s Haleyville Service and Burial

It is humbling for me to be able to share some of the images and thought from yesterday’s service. I know there are many of Mark’s brothers in arms like YK and so many others who I do not know who wished they could have attended but are literally still fighting. If you are one of these very important people, please contact me when you can, if you can. I know his family is collecting images and stories of him in the field and I am putting together a memorial DVD for them, as well as for you. Mark also had many friends all over the country that may not have had the chance to attend who would have liked to. I hope this post gives everyone a sense of how great the services were, and the impact Mark had on so many lives.

There was some concern that one of those radical “anti-military” groups might show up to protest. The “Patriot Guard Riders” are a group of motorcycle veterans who attend funerals to ensure family members do not see these protestors. Fortunately none showed up. I really liked these guys, this is something they do year round, attend funeral services for veterans to help facilitate a respectful service.

Seeing Mark’s coffin was rough for me. I wasn’t able to attend his viewing, but to be quite honest, I never do good at these events and prefer to remember Mark as I do now. This is just a personal thing. As you will see the City of Haleyville was absolutely amazing. They prepped the school (cleaned it inside and out) for Mark’s service.

This is one of my most favorite images of Mark. It shows what a great man and warrior he had grown up to become. Even with the machine gun, gear, dirty clothing, I still see a humble, God fearing man who loved his country with a tender heart. To me this is who Mark was, half model Christian, half Warrior. I am so proud of the man he became and want to be more like him.

The auditorium was packed. Once services started, I did not see an empty seat in the house.

I would also estimate there were about 70-80 of Mark’s squadron there, other combat controllers from the 21st STS. I would like to do a blog post about this in the near future. I will be the first to admit how surprised I was to learn how awesome these guys are on the battle field. I had a somewhat of an idea from Mark, but he didnt really give me specifics, thats just the way he was. While I was taking pictures, one of them, GZ made it a point to let me know: “We will never forget Mark and I promise you, we will take the fight to them”. This is a phrase I heard many times “We will take the fight to them”. While it sounds an appropriate thing for a solider to say, the conviction and passion with which he said it felt like: : “We are going to hunt these guys down in their homes and take care of them”.

Just hearing it made me think: “we live in a great country to have so many of these extremely brave men protecting us.” I later learned that GZ is an incredible warrior himself.

Not to take away from Mark’s service, GZ was shot in the shoulder in combat, with the round puncturing a lung, and exiting his back. He continued to control the combat flights for an hour, upon which when it ended, mentioned “I dont feel so good.” In order to be evacuated, he had to run a mile to the helicopter. Did I also mention he has also been shot in the helmet twice but the rounds didn’t penetrate? Looking back on it now, and knowing someone like GZ said this about Mark and taking the fight to the enemy, it brings more closure to losing Mark, knowing we are in very good hands. I met many others like GZ and immediately felt as if they were friends of my own.

Derek Pierce put together a great slideshow of Mark’s pictures. I know how much work these things are and he did a wonderful job.

Mark’s brothers all spoke and did a wonderful job. Joseph quoted the F-18 pilot who was working with Mark that day and had posted on Mark’s tribute page. We have never met him and are very appreciative to him for taking the initiative to share what he did about Mark.

One of Mark’s General’s, I believe this was Brig Gen Otis Mannon.

One of Mark’s best friends and roommate Robert Bonello, who spoke at both services, he did an outstanding job, very well poised.

Mark’s Brother Thad speaking. David also spoke and mentioned his unborn son would bear Mark’s name. All did a wonderful job.

Something I was amazed with was the outpouring of love from Haleyville citizens. The road was lined with hundreds, if not thousands of people holding flags, letting ballons go, signs. It was so good to see places like Haleyville exist. This is red blooded America in the purest sense, where the entire town surrounds a family, whether they know them or not, and expresses their gratitude and appreciation. It was truly amazing to see.

I would estimate this collage of images represent about 1/5th of all the signs we saw honoring Mark. I didnt catch on to get pictures of these until we were almost there. There were signs everywhere.

Mark’s burial was with full military honors, including a three volley rifle salute, presentation of colors, flag folding ceremony, and farewell from his brothers in arms…..

Mark’s fellow Combat Controllers each placed a pin or other memento on his casket, by the end of the service it was flooded with them. Mark’s Commander asked me to make sure the funderal director placed these momentos inside the casket with Mark, and it is my understanding he did.

3 F-16’s which flew overhead in missing man formation. I almost missed this it happened so quickly.

Afterwards we had a delicious meal provided by the City of Haleyville with Mark’s family, close friends and the 21st STS.

At both services they dropped to do pushups for fallen comrades and “one for Mark”. Shortly after this ended, Michael Madsen and I made a run to Walmart to get a change of clothes so we could wash the ones we were wearing for the service at Pope AF Base in NC the next day. We left on 2 charter buses to NC later that night. I will be posting images and thoughts on that service shortly.