Fallen Tolono soldier welcomed home
SAVOY – A line of motorcycles bearing flags, their riders clad in black leather, rumbled its way through a light mist Wednesday on its way to Willard Airport.
The riders came from all over the state and from a variety of backgrounds, but all shared a common goal – to honor Pfc. Lucas Starcevich, a man they'd never met.
Pfc. Starcevich, 25, of Tolono, was killed April 16 in Baghdad, Iraq, when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device. It was his second tour of duty, and his mother, Ava Tomson of Tolono, said he would want family and friends to remain supportive of the soldiers still in the fight.
The Patriot Guard Riders stood by at the airport with the soldier's family and friends, who wanted to be there to meet his body when it arrived stateside and escort it to Morgan Memorial Home in Champaign.
The Patriot Guard Riders are primarily motorcyclists, and most of them are veterans of the military.
"Our primary mission is to show our respect to our fallen soldiers, veterans and their families and communities," said Todd LeClair of Watseka, a state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders. "Our intent is to show respect."
Members of the group attend funerals only at the family's invitation and with prior approval of local law enforcement. There are 56,000 members in all 50 states, so the riders work with the military to do whatever the family requests.
"Back in Vietnam, a lot of those guys came home without a reception and sometimes with big protests," LeClair said. "We want to show our respect for their sacrifice so they feel appreciated."
The group has existed since 2005, when a local American Legion Riders chapter in Topeka, Kan., decided to act as a shield for grieving families from a protest there organized by the Rev. Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church.
Visitation for Pfc. Starcevich will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. today. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the funeral home.
Pfc. Starcevich was a graduate of Unity High School and enlisted in 2000. He was a member of the Army's 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. He was engaged to be married.
"Our request is that everyone honor the sacrifices these men and women and the families left behind are making," his mother said a few days after learning of his death.
She said Lucas would want to be remembered "as a soldier, as one of his brothers, someone doing what his country asked him to do.
"And he would want people to remember the others there," she said. "They're all our children."
News-Gazette regional editor Rebecca Mabry contributed to this story.