Potomac pays its respects to native-son Marine gone too soon

Potomac pays its respects to native-son Marine gone too soon

POTOMAC — The town of Potomac paused Friday to pay its respects to a hometown hero and U.S. Marine who endured five overseas deployments, including a tour in Iraq that ended with injury and a Purple Heart.

Staff Sgt. David Clifton Gentry II died Nov. 18 after a short battle with cancer at his Oklahoma home with his wife, Neanna, and mother, Karen, there with him. He was 32.

Staff Sgt. Gentry's ashes were flown Thursday into Willard Airport in Savoy. The next morning, a full escort — including military personnel, Illinois State Police officers, Illinois Patriot Guard riders and Potomac area firefighters and first responders — accompanied his remains to the small northwestern Vermilion County community where he grew up.

In the morning, residents gathered along U.S. 136 as the procession came into town. They returned in the early afternoon when it traveled from the funeral home to Potomac Cemetery, where graveside services were held.

"I've never seen so many flags up and down Potomac," said Harold Hoskins, Staff Sgt. Gentry's uncle.

Hoskins, an Army veteran and commander of American Legion Post 428, said his wife and Staff Sgt. Gentry's brother, Ty Gentry, decided Thursday night to line the main route through town with American flags. He said that when community members saw what they were doing, they came out to help.

On Friday, Hoskins' sister-in-law Phyllis Hoskins and other volunteers were preparing a meal at the Potomac Legion for family and friends following the service. Phyllis Hoskins said the town's response to the Marine's homecoming was heartwarming.

"It gave you a good feeling, because they appreciate what David has done," she said. "The whole town was behind him and was very grateful to see the service he has performed."

Staff Sgt. Gentry, an Armstrong Township High School graduate, spent his entire adult life serving in the military. His 14-year military career included five deployments, all to Afghanistan or Iraq except one. He was awarded a Purple Heart for a tour in Iraq, according to his uncle.

Hoskins said his nephew was shot in the arm by a sniper during that tour. He added that if Staff Sgt. Gentry hadn't turned his body just a moment before, he might have been killed.

Hoskins, reminiscing about Staff Sgt. Gentry's childhood, said he was ornery as a kid. He was very active, always building something, and into old cars.

He said his nephew's goal was to remain in the Marines and be "a lifer." He was still on active duty when he died.

Just prior to the start of school, Potomac Superintendent and grade school Principal Larry Maynard held a short assembly to honor "our hometown hero," at which they observed a moment of silence for him.

"We wanted to show our respect to Staff Sgt. Gentry for his service and sacrifice," Maynard said.

That afternoon, K-8 students filed out of the grade school, located on U.S. 136. Older students formed a long line in front of the school, while younger students stood behind a fence across from the cemetery.

Between them, a Bluegrass ladder truck flew an oversized American flag over the highway.

The small group of firefighters stood at attention and some schoolchildren placed their hands on their hearts as the procession led by Patriot Guard riders slowly passed by.

Hoskins said Staff Sgt. Gentry's remains will eventually be placed near his grandfather's in Potomac Cemetery, per his wishes.

"We appreciate all our veterans, but this one was special," he said.

Hoskins said he was also impressed and appreciative of others who traveled from out of state to pay their respects, including a Marine contingent out of Terre Haute, Ind.; a Marine Corps chaplain and captain from California; and a close friend and fellow Marine from Minnesota who served with his nephew.

"All of these things are so neat," he said. "I just wish it wasn't under these circumstances."

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