'We are forever grateful to this hero'
"All gave some; some gave all."
The sign, on a vehicle from the Canton VFW, said it all in the funeral procession Friday for a soldier killed in Iraq.
Pfc. Lucas V. Starcevich, a 25-year-old soldier from Tolono who was killed April 16 in Iraq, was laid to rest Friday with military honors and remembered as a fearless young man who loved his country.
At funeral services attended by his relatives and friends and public officials, the soldier was eulogized as a man of deep faith. Songs like "Fields of Grace" by Big Daddy Weave and "Grace Like Rain" by Todd Agnew painted a picture of what Starcevich believed in.
The entrance to Morgan Memorial Home in Savoy was lined with flags borne by the Patriot Guard Riders, a group made up primarily of motorcycle riders, most of them veterans.
The Rev. Roger Ross read from Psalm 23, which says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil," and from John 15:9-17, which says, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Pfc. Starcevich was a member of the Army's 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq.
Ross said Pfc. Starcevich's mother, Ava Tomson, showed him a photo of her son with his unit. In the photo, he was wearing a stuffed toy monkey around his neck as a tribute to his grandfather, a World War II Navy veteran who became ill with cancer. His grandfather said that no matter where he was or what he was doing, the disease was never far from his mind, like a "monkey on his back." The Iraq war became the monkey on Pfc. Starcevich's back, Ross said.
After a four-year tour of duty as a chemical weapons specialist, Starcevich was honorably discharged and tried to return to civilian life.
But he could never forget the fellow soldiers he called "my guys," according to Ross.
Ross said that in one of the last conversations with his mother, Pfc. Starcevich said, "This is the right thing. This is where I need to be."
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said Pfc. Starcevich had "a servant's heart" and that his spirit of volunteerism and service to his country should serve as an example for every boy and girl in Illinois.
Ross said Tomson had received great comfort from the Military Moms group that she attended monthly.
Military Moms member Susan Sondag of Champaign found solace in the group when her son, Shannon Bear, who served in the National Guard, was deployed to Iraq. Although Sondag had never met Tomson, she attended the funeral as a show of solidarity.
"They are the most loving, caring, selfless people," Sondag said of Military Moms. "I felt I needed to come because I was fortunate that my son returned from Iraq. I want to do whatever I can do to help."
Sondag said the Military Moms group went to the Tomson home last Thursday, held a service there and spent some time with her.
Sondag said that throughout her son's tour of duty in Iraq, she prayed continuously.
"I was so afraid for a whole year," she said. "My heart goes out to her. He gave up his life for his country. It could've been my son."
Local police and sheriff's deputies escorted the funeral procession following the service, from south of Champaign to Interstate 72 to Springfield. Burial was at Camp Butler National Cemetery at Springfield.
Along the way, supporters gathered with flags to pay their respects. One of those places was St. John Lutheran School on Mattis Avenue in Champaign.
The school had standardized tests planned for the day, but Principal Ralph Leffler felt it was important to make sure that students were there when the procession went by.
"We were asked to show our respect and gratitude to the soldier as they went by," Leffler said. "I hope this will be a day the kids do remember in a positive way. It lets them know it's not something that happens a long way away, that it has an impact on Champaign-Urbana."
Leffler said the day's events gave teachers an opportunity to discuss the war with their students.
"The kids certainly know about the war in Iraq," Leffler said. "They hear about it on TV and hear adults talking about it, and the older kids read about it. I think it's really important to have those kinds of discussions."
The Patriot Guard Riders' Web site, www.patriotguard.org, has been filled with condolences to Pfc. Starcevich's family and friends from around the country.
"We are forever grateful to this hero for his courage, service and sacrifice for our nation," read a posting from Dallas, Ga.
Another from Lacey, Wash., read:"You are and will remain a true American hero."