Farewell to a hero

Published 10:45 am Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The staccato growl of a hundred Harleys roaring over the Woodland Cemetery bridge beat out their own kind of military tribute as they led the motor cortege that brought Sgt. Justin Bradley Allen to his final rest.

Allen, an Army Ranger, was killed July 18, while conducting a combat operation in Kandahar Province Afghanistan. The Coal Grove man was on his fourth deployment with the Rangers and was a team leader assigned to Company D 1st Battalion 75th Ranger Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

The Patriot Guard bike riders in well-worn jeans, black leather vests and doo rags had given Allen’s family an escort from their home to the Dawson-Bryant High School, the site of the young soldier’s funeral early Tuesday morning.

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“We do this for all soldiers,” Larry Blackburn of South Point said as the bikers — some who had come as far as Columbus to honor Allen — met at the Family Dollar parking lot before the service.

Then at noon they were joined by other motorcyclists in the massive funeral procession that left Coal Grove to Ironton through the front gates of Woodland. Crowds lined the streets from Marion Pike to Lorain Street, waving flags or carrying banners praising Allen for his sacrifice to his country.

Car after car followed the silver hearse of Phillips Funeral Home marked with the Army logo. Allen’s family crowded under and around two blue tents that gave shelter to the flag-draped casket of the slain soldier.

Fellow Army Rangers fired a 21-gun salute as a bugler blew the haunting notes of Taps.

In a slow motion salute Army pallbearers raised their white-gloved hands to Allen.

Then just as slowly, they lifted the American flag off the walnut-colored casket, folding it and folding it until it became the iconic triangular wedge that was handed to Allen’s parents. A second flag was given to Allen’s fiancée, Kimberly Schwartz.

For the past week the Coal Grove community joined the Allen family in mourning their loss. Signboards at churches, diners and schools paid tribute to the young man, whose life ended 21 days before his 24th birthday.

At the service both Coal Grove and military friends remembered Allen for his bravery, work ethic, sense of fun and loyalty to friends and family, saying he will forever been linked to the struggle against terrorism.

“My heart this morning is broken,” Pastor Jon Rule told the packed house at the Dawson-Bryant gym. “We all loved him. The support and love this family has received is unbelievable. As difficult as it is to give up our parents, how much more difficult is it to give up on your children. It is unnatural.

“The shock, disbelief, the anger that will come. The question, why Justin, such an outstanding young man, whether an Army Ranger and civilian.

“Bonnie and Roger, you have the love of God. He understands perfectly what it is to give up a son.”