Imagine that you have just learned that your son is dead. What would you do?
What could you do?
Some people, like Colonel Mike Rudzinski, turn their thoughts to the suffering of their son’s friends. He set aside his own pain and instead consoled others by writing to them. In fact, my page for the Chris Rudzinski mission is largely his father’s words. Clearly, Chris learned selfless service from Mike.
It is just a clear that Gunnar learned likewise from his parents. “Our pain is indescribable, just as our pride is immeasurable. He belongs to all of us now and honor covers him like his flag.”
Our soldiers are our very best Americans. That is no accident. They come from the very best American families.
My Dear Friends,
If you have tried to contact me, and I have not responded, it is because we have been kept very busy. We thank you so much for the offers of help.
Friday I traveled with my daughter-in-law Erin, in the company of an army
colonel, to Dover Air Force Base. We watched the dignified transfer of
our son Gunnar home from
family has been wrapped in the arms of the U.S. Army, both figuratively and
literally. They are taking very good care of us. We must wait for
direction from the army before we can be 100% definite, but we are planning to
have a visitation at Gibbons-Elliston Funeral Home in
are interested, I invite you to go to Gunnar Hotchkin's
Facebook page. I think his wife
We are going through this as best we can, moment by moment. As I write this I am watching over my grandson Ethan sleeping on my couch. He will get me through this. We need and welcome your love and support-email messages or cards will do just fine, and we welcome you who are able to pay tribute to our fallen hero with us on Thursday and/or Friday.
Chris & Randy Hotchkin
See also THIS facebook page.
Gunnar Randall Hotchkin, was killed in action June 16, 2010, in northern
Visitation Thursday, June 24, 2 to 8 p.m. at Gibbons Elliston Funeral Home, First and Grant Streets, Hinsdale, IL 60521.
Friends will meet Friday, June 25, at Union Church
days after Gunnar was killed, the
NATO ISAF reports: An Afghan-international security force
killed a Taliban sub-commander along with a number of insurgents at a compound
in Chahar Darah district,
Razaq was responsible for moving suicide operatives throughout the eastern
part of Kunduz province and was the Taliban military commander in
The security force searched a compound east of Chahar Darrehchi, Chahar Darah district, where they were fired upon by individuals armed with automatic weapons and grenades. The combined force returned fire and secured the compound.
During the search a civilian man came out of his home and told Afghan and coalition forces that the Taliban use the road near the compound daily and that they frequently stay in the mosque behind his home. The Taliban continue to use mosques as safe havens and weapons storage sites, knowing that international forces are not allowed to enter. A significant amount of automatic weapons, magazines full of ammunition, grenades and an RPG launcher with rounds were found on site. Women and children present were protected by the combined force during the search.
"IED attacks continue to be the insurgents' main tactic against Afghan National Security Forces and coalition elements," said Col. William Maxwell of the ISAF Joint Command. "This puts Afghan civilian lives at risk and yesterday's operation helped take those responsible for these acts out of the Chahar Darah community," he added.
Kronos International reports: Mullah Abdul Razaq, a resident of the Pakistani town of
After the fall of the Taliban in December 2001, Mullah Abdul Razaq was
arrested by the Americans. Insiders say he was given conditional immunity when
he agreed to play a role in talks between the CIA,
The talks were reportedly over a truce and a proposal for the Taliban's participation in the political process in
… When Mullah Abdul Razaq returned to the Taliban's fold in 2005, he
convinced businesses in Chaman to support the Taliban financially in order to
spare their businesses from attacks when they transported goods through
After 2005, the stakes were higher as the Noorzai and Ackzai tribes became involved in the construction of expensive hotels in
Mullah Abdul Razaq, once again convinced the businessmen of Chaman to support the Taliban financially so that their transport and hotel businesses would be spared from attacks.
is the nature of counter-insurgency.
World War II was the last time we asserted our full weight. Ever since, we have pulled our punches for
valid strategic reasons. In the case of
then we spent eight years (so far) in an effort to make an
The first day:
We assembled at the armory adjacent to
Many of the reliables and a few new guys.
Brenda got us started.
We first formed a corridor through which the hearse and family would pass when they arrived.
(I got that photo by handing-off my flag to Carmen.)
Then we re-formed in the cavernous armory hanger.
The small jet passed under the arc of the airport firefighter’s water cannon. It was parked in the hanger. A ramp was removed from the jet and used to unload an electric lift. The lift was used to unload the casket.
Soldiers moved the casket from the lift to the hearse.
Then we mounted and staged in the street in front of the armory.
The State Police would take us down I-55.
I was flying the 5 by 8 so I tried to use slip-knots to keep it furled until we left the Interstate when I would release it while riding. It didn’t work. The wind pulled it loose and I was lucky to retrieve the dragging rope ends before they fouled.
Everything stopped except our procession.
Gunnar’s widow is
As we approached our destination, the firefighters raised the salute that only they can do.
We dismounted at the funeral home and stood in respectful silence as the hearse passed. Then we pulled our flags from Eric’s new truck and took our positions at the front door of the building.
From my place in line, I noticed these two across the street from us.
The scouts have holders mounted on the street lampposts. When it is useful, they post their flags.
They were John and Jonathan, scout leader and Eagle Scout prospect, father and son. It was a father showing his son how to do the right thing. A son needs his father for that.
Gunnar’s oldest son is Ethan who is eight – the same age as Kevin, my grandson.
Ethan and I skipped-out of Gunnar’s wake at 1400 for a motorcycle ride. He wants a blue motorcycle – same as Kevin. He told me about several boyfriends and a girlfriend named Sondra. Then he went back inside and I did some more flag-holding.
Ethan and I took a second ride at 1600 and ended-up
Ethan is full of potential – he could be anything. He will grow to be happy and strong like his father. Part of the price that Gunnar paid is that he will not see it happen.
All eight year-old boys think of their fathers as heroes. In Ethan’s case, it is true. I hope he knows it.
The next day:
The Korean War began when the North invaded the
South on a June 25th. In
Korean, “June Two Five” is pronounced U-KEE-O
and no mention of the year is necessary.
Traffic was lighter than I anticipated and I arrived early. The Deputy Chief of Police told me he wanted our bikes to stage in the school bus loading area, near the church. So I was in place to get this photo of the second biker to arrive.
The principal opened his school (and restrooms) to us.
Donna provided the flags. She is the founder of welcomeyouhome.org
An American soldier had died on the other side of the planet.
As the hearse passed our staging area we stood in silence and saluted.
We all came for Gunnar. We are all on his side.
History records that
History records that the most powerful nation on Earth fought its longest war in the mountains and villages of one of the most impoverished and backward countries on Earth.
And now history can record that the youngest PGRider attending Gunnar’s funeral was also named Gunnar.
Here, young Gunnar stands with his father as they prepare for the funeral of another father.
So we formed another corridor, this time at the entrance of a beautiful church.
The Mayor of
The Governor of
Also attending were U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin.
And once the guests were all inside, we waited.
When the guests were to come back outside, we returned.
Including young Gunnar and father.
Mrs. Maureen Greene did not attend the service either. Also like us, she brought a flag to hold. She was part of the community and simply wanted to show support for the brave soldier and gratitude for his sacrifice. That is what she said when NBC interviewed her.
She smiled as she reflected on the great service of a fine soldier.
Then she (and channel 5’s Zoraida Sambolin) were filled with pensive anticipation as the soldier was to be carried from the church.
Bev Horne of the Daily Herald set her focus on the flag.
(photo removed by request of Daily Herald)
Rob Hart of the Sun-Times set his focus on the hearse.
Sarah Minor of the Naperville-Reporter took a different angle.
There were several of us.
This time I was across the street with the paparazzi to see what they could see. The family had requested privacy, so I didn’t expect to see much.
We formed a corridor one last time and Gunnar the soldier was placed in the hearse to the wail of bagpipes.
And then Governor Quinn escorted the family past young Gunnar and on to their cars.
Then we led the hearse to the cemetery.
Cars in both directions stopped, as they had on the Interstate the previous day.
And again, many firefighters lined our route.
As did more representatives of the community. They discovered the route, they found their flags and they waited for us to pass. Just because.
We marched in, past the soldiers.
We surrounded the gravesite with our colors and held our places through the religious and military ceremonies.
And then we marched out.
These are a few of the soldiers who honored Gunnar.
This is the Command Sergeant Major.
And this is LTG Frank Helmick, Commander of XVIII
Airborne Corps, who delivered the folded flags to the family. The 3rd Infantry Division, the 10th
Mountain Division, the All Americans of the 82nd Airborne Division,
the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division and
During the Civil War, we could barely manage to bury our fallen were they fell. Eighty years later, World War II resulted in 200 thousand American warriors MIA/POW of which only 120 thousand have returned home.
Today, a single Private soldier dies on the battlefield and a Lieutenant General attends his funeral. How far we have come.
According to the newspaper: Helmick said Hotchkin set himself apart from the average soldier, and he proudly wore the maroon beret and wings that set a paratrooper's uniform apart from those of other soldiers'. "Today, Gunnar has a different set of wings," Helmick said.
But the last soldier to leave the cemetery was a Staff Sergeant named Fabian Tumbaco. He was in the plane that landed at the Midway armory. He traveled with Gunnar to the funeral home, to the church and to the cemetery. The service had ended and the guests had left, but the casket had not yet been lowered into the vault. So Fabian remained at graveside. He would stay with Gunnar until Gunnar was at rest.
Because honoring our fallen is part of the promise we make to them when they volunteer to face evil for us.
I began this page with a letter written by Gunnar’s mother, and I close with one written by his brother. It was written to Dave & Brenda, shown above. He writes, “so you therefore consider this to simply be your honor. But I still feel I personally owe you guys something”.
Stamp this one “Paid in Full”.
This is Kurt, Gunnar's younger brother. I just wanted to tell you how appreciative I am of you and the Patriot Guard Riders. I had heard of your services, mostly on the news concerning those awful protesters. But I'm sorry to say I was completely mistaken about what you guys really do, which is so much more than protection. You protect the dignity of what has been the most solemn of events throughout history: the burial of a young soldier (how anyone could be dumb enough to desecrate such a thing with protests is beyond me). But more than that, you add to it. The tribute you guys paid to my brother was the greatest tribute to anyone I have ever seen.
Seeing my brother's casket be flown in and loaded into a hearse was the worst moment of my life, and may forever be that way. I weep thinking about it. It may have been the only thing I'd remember of that day, if it weren't for you guys. But I remember the ride afterwards. I'll remember it with pride for the rest of my life. You and your wife had described it to me in person, but it still took me completely and utterly by surprise to see it. Your bikes flying the red, white, and blue. The salutes of countless servicemen at every intersection. The I-55, usually packed with the traffic of people going abut their mundane business, made clear for my brother.
You guys stuck with my brother and my family every step of the way with more patience and respect than anyone. I could not have imagined it. I know you guys are mostly all veterans - and may I thank you for that - so you therefore consider this to simply be your honor. But I still feel I personally owe you guys something, which I promise to pay. I am inspired by what you guys do. It has made a very certain change in the way I see things.
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 10:49 AM
To: Russ, Don
Subject: Flag kissing.
I first wanted to thank you for all that you do in chronicling the PGR missions with your camera and your words. I was at the Christopher Antonik wake Sunday night with you. I did not see the man kiss the flag because I was facing you but I did see your reaction. I wanted to share with you a similar experience that I had while standing the flag line at Gunnar Hotchkin’s wake.
and I were standing the flag line in silent thought with many other PGR members
at Gunners wake in
Thanks again for all that you do.
See you down the road,
Three photo albums: Visitation
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