Many of those who turned out Thursday to show their respects to Pfc. Zachery Fuller, 23, never knew the young U.S. Army soldier, who died in an accident June 2 at Fort Hood, Texas.
It didn’t matter to the veterans who came from across the state and formed a motorcycle escort of more than 40 bikes, or to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies who helped clear the way through traffic and rain from Tampa International Airport. Nor did it matter to several hundred local residents who waved American flags and saluted along Fourth Street West in Palmetto as the procession made its way to Westside Funeral Home.
“When something like this happens in Palmetto, everyone’s heart is broken. You can’t help but shed a tear. He was doing the right thing and the Lord took him,” said Palmetto resident Reva Cooper.
Mark “Pipe” DeMariano, 68, was one of the U.S. Military Veterans Motorcycle Club members who escorted Pfc Fuller’s body home.
“I am honored to do it. He’s a veteran, like the rest of us. He is my brother and he was working for his country. It’s just tragic,” said DeMariano, a Bradenton resident.
Pfc. Fuller’s family was moved by the outpouring of respect and grief for the young soldier who entered the service in November 2015 as a motor transport soldier. He was one of nine soldiers who drowned when their 2.5-ton truck drove into deep floodwaters.
“Today is a day that obviously they will never forget. Their son was brought home with the highest honors from so many organizations,” said Lance Biddle on behalf of the family.
“They are overwhelmed with great thanks and at the same time they are hurting,” said Biddle, commander of Ellenton AmVets Chapter 301. “It was so powerful that it tells you what kind of community we live in.”
Eddie Dorman, first vice commander of the AmVets post, called it a terrible day for the family, the kind of day no one ever wants to experience.
Hopefully, the family could take some solace from the escort, and quiet respect by strangers such as Latonya Powell, who called the day amazing.
“I think it was very, very well deserved. He’s a veteran now, being an active duty member and fallen troop, this was pretty good,” said James Presha, a member of the 9th Cavalry, Buffalo Soldiers of Florida.
Vietnam veteran Terry Longpre was one of the motorcycle riders forming the escort.
“We didn’t know what to expect. But when we turned the corner onto Fourth Street West, we were really happy and surprised that so many people were here to support the family in their loss.” he said.
Pfc. Fuller was assigned in April to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. His awards and decorations include a National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
The funeral service is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Palmetto’s Bible Baptist Church, 1720 Sixth Ave. W.
A committal is set for 1 p.m. Monday at Sarasota National Cemetery, 9801 State Road 72.
Both services are open to the public, Biddle said.