Friends and family came to St. Agnes Church in Clark to say goodbye to Marine Cpl. Kevin Reinhard this morning. But those who knew Reinhard were outnumbered by those who didn't, yet felt compelled to pay respect to the fallen soldier.
Reinhard, 25, was among six who died last week in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. He was a lifelong Colonia resident and had almost completed his second tour of duty when he was killed.
Madison Hill Road and the lawn in front of the church were filled with police from nearly every town in the county, the Clark and Colonia fire departments, bagpipers from across the state, students from St. Joseph's High School in Metuchen (where Reinhard graduated in 2005), supportive residents and nearly 100 motorcyclists organized by the Patriot Guard, a riders club that attends funerals of soldiers, firefighters and police, but only after being invited by family members.
Tom Scarano, Reinhard's U.S. History teacher at St. Joe's, held up a large flag with the help of two St. Joes' students. "We often talked about him joining the Marines," Scarano told Patch. "He was very patriotic. He had a great sense of duty. He was a just a wonderful, smart, compassionate kid."
Some of the bystanders had come prepared for a fight. Members of the infamous Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church had claimed they would be protesting the funeral, holding up signs declaring Reinhard's death in Afghanistan as a sign of God's judgment on America. The deaths of soldiers oversees, they believe, is because various states in the country have legalized gay marriage.
Nearly 50 different police cars from various towns were on site to honor Reinhard, but also to make sure the funeral was a peaceful one.
Angel Vendrell, a Woodbridge resident and fellow Marine, read on Facebook that there might be protesters at Reinhard's funeral and took off from work to attend. "I don't know him, but I thought let's go down and make sure they're not close to the family," Vendrell told Patch. "I saw a photo of one of their signs on their Internet and it said 'Pray For More Dead Soldiers.' If I saw that sign here, I'm taking that sign down."
Scarano said he was relieved that the protesters were no-shows. "I was worried and I'm pleased that they're not here," he said. "God will take care of them."
Barbara Robinson and her husband Ed live in Clark and also decided to come to show their support. "We just wanted to support the family," says Barbara. "All I know is he was a young man who was due to come home soon."
As for the folks on the motorcycles, Robinson said she was happy to see them. "I think it's wonderful they're here and for the family to have backup. And as I understand, some came from quite a distance."
Patriot Guard member Donald Klein, who led the efforts for Reinhard's services, had little to say about the Westboro threat. "I don't deal with them," Klein told Patch. "To me they're nonexistent. They claim they're going to every single military funeral and they never show up."
Klein says he comes to funerals with the Patriot Guard because his son is in the service and he feels it's his way of giving back.
"We're not in a uniform," said Klein. "We're a ragtag group, call it what you want, but when we salute that changes. We're all here for the same reason."
Clark Police Captain Al Scherb was especially relieved the protesters stayed clear. "We had contingency plans and they needed to stay 500 feet away from private property so we had marked that out at Ginesi Street," said Scherb. "But they're not here, thankfully. They have a right to protest, but the Corporal died in the line of duty...to me, it's not right."
After the funeral mass, in an awesome display of patriotism, hundreds of residents lined the 1.5 mile final stretch in Marine Corporal Kevin Reinhard's funeral procession from St. Agnes to St. Gertrude's Cemetery in Colonia.
Despite the bitter 30 degree weather, schoolchildren came out from their classrooms and residents from their homes to line Inman Ave and pay respect to the fallen soldier.
As the long line of cars drove past, the crowds stood still and silent, many of them with hands over their hearts or in a firm salute. Click here to see our video of the crowds lining the procession.