THOUSANDS PAY HOMAGE TO DEAD SOLDIERS ON SAIPAN

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By Marconi Calindas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 11) – An estimated 6,000 people thronged the highway leading to Saipan's airport Wednesday evening when the bodies of SPC Derence Jack and Sgt. Wilgene Lieto were flown in aboard a Continental cargo plane from Philadelphia.

Community organizations and government agencies joined hands as they lined up along the airport road from the Francisco C. Ada Saipan International Airport all the way down to Herman's Bakery to pay their respects to the two soldiers, who were both killed in Iraq on Oct. 31. A long line of candles and cars' signal lights lit up the road as the vehicles carrying the bodies passed by.

The bodies of Jack and Lieto were supposed to be flown in at 7:30pm but this was delayed until around 9:45pm. Families, close relatives, and friends were first given the chance to pay their respect to the soldiers, with a private viewing of the remains inside the airport.

Military Veterans Affairs Office executive officer Ruth Coleman, who was among those allowed inside the airport, said the arrival of both soldiers' remains is probably "the saddest event" in the CNMI. She said both spouses of Jack and Lieto are taking the deaths of their husbands very hard.

Coleman said Melissa Jack and Tiara Lieto both cried when they saw the caskets of their husbands. The scene was repeated over and over by family members and friends that gathered at the airport.

"Tears overflowed that moment," said Colemen, who disclosed that she also had to control her emotions. "Everything was a blur. It's really heartbreaking," she said. "Everyone had goose bumps, particularly when the people inside the room spontaneously sang the CNMI anthem."

Gov. Juan N. Babauta, Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente, and Deputy Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs David Cohen were among those present for the arrival of Jack and Lieto's remains. Bishop Tomas A. Camacho blessed the caskets of the fallen soldiers.

The ceremony also included full military honors by the Department of Public Safety, with police officers escorting the bodies from the airport to the Commonwealth Health Center. Lieto was a police officer at the DPS.

Jack, 31, and Lieto, 28, were killed when a bomb blew up while they were on patrol in Balad, Iraq Monday night (Saipan time). They were both due to come home in less than four months.

The two members of Echo Company were among the U.S. Army reservists called to active duty in August 2004. They left for a one-year tour of duty in Iraq in January 2005.

November 11, 2005

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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