Strangers passed a box of tissues down Main Street in Ferndale Thursday, Nov. 12, as throngs of supporters awaited the motorcade carrying the body of Spc. Aaron Aamot.
Aamot, 22, was killed Nov. 5 in Afghanistan when the vehicle he was driving hit a bomb buried in the road. He was in the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment and was part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division based in Fort Lewis. He had been serving in Afghanistan since mid-July on his first deployment in the war.
Aamot's body arrived by charter plane at Bellingham International Airport Thursday in a flag-draped coffin, met by solemn family members and a military honor guard. A motorcade of family and friends, law enforcement and military vehicles and several dozen motorcycles escorted Aamot's white hearse to Moles Funeral Home in Ferndale.
The route between the airport and Moles was lined with thousands of people waving flags of all sizes and signs thanking Aamot for his sacrifice. People gathered on the roads on the side of Interstate 5 and packed each overpass, while Main Street swelled with the crowd.
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"I think Aaron would appreciate this. It was amazing, for a country boy from Custer," said his older brother, Matt Aamot. "He was very patriotic and proud to serve his country. Two weeks ago, if he knew what would happen and had the choice of going back or going AWOL, he'd go back to be with his buddies."
Aamot, the fifth of eight children and a Ferndale High School graduate, was home on leave in mid-October. He is the first Whatcom County soldier killed while serving in Afghanistan.
For many who lined the streets in his honor, his death brought home the reality of war and the fragility of life.
"I think he just represents all of our children and grandchildren and everyone serving," said Bellingham resident Jeanne Quinlivan, who fought tears after the motorcade passed. "The turnout alone speaks for itself."
Eydie Berry came down from Blaine to watch the procession on Main Street with her husband and children, as well as a friend and her child.
"We're showing respect for this fallen hero who died keeping our country safe," she said. "It's the least we could do for this family. Nothing can heal them. They'll be missing him forever, but the show of support can maybe ease that for a bit."
Berry said she teared up when she got off the freeway and saw all the people gathered on the Axton Road overpass.
For her friend, Tracie Gobbato, the procession was a chance to teach her 9-year-old daughter, Maria, about sacrifice.
"We get to wake up every day safe here because someone keeps us safe," Gobbato whispered into her daughter's ear. "You have to always remember that."
A memorial service for Spc. Aaron Aamot will be 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, in the Ferndale High School gym. The public is welcome to attend; priority for seating will be reserved for family and friends.
A National Public Radio reporter and photographer embedded with Aaron Aamot's platoon in Afghanistan reported on the bombing and subsequent ambush. To read the stories, see photos or hear the audio accounts, click here. Note: Some readers may find the accounts too graphic.