ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. – Flags across Michigan flew at half-staff Thursday to honor Sgt. Mark Schoonhoven on the day he was laid to rest.
It was a somber tone in the Otsego-Plainwell area, people and American flags lined the streets near St. Margaret Catholic Church to show support for the fallen soldier’s family.
“What we do is very small,” said Gig Wagner. “I try to remember all the veterans who made this country what it is.”
If a West Michigan soldier sacrifices his or her life for their country, you’re bound to see the Patriot Guard Riders holding the red, white, and blue at the funeral. Wagner is just one of many bikers silently welcoming loved ones who’ve come to say their final goodbye to one of Plainwell’s own
“We’re here to honor an American hero,” Wagner explained. “I can`t think of a better thing for me to be doing today, then to show honor to that family and that soldier who gave his all for this country.”
While serving in Afghanistan, Schoonhoven’s unit was hit with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). His father says the 38-year-old soldier suffered severe brain and spinal injuries, and never woke up from his five week coma. Schoonhoven passed away last month in a Texas hospital, his flag-draped casket came home on Monday.
Outside the services, a man known as “The Flag Man,” circles the parking lot. For seven years, Larry Eckhardt has honored fallen soldiers in his own special way; by lining the streets with flags, and drawing the community out to show support.
“We can’t repay them,” Eckhardt sighs, adding that Schoonhoven’s funeral is his 100th.
This time, with help from dozens of volunteers, he says he decorated parts of Otsego and Plainwell with roughly 1,800 American flags – most of which are bought with his own money.
“(The flags are) a very silent and very powerful wakeup call.”
Eckhardt hopes drivers in the area will see the flags, take a moment to reflect, and thank those who fight for our freedom.
“Just the simple act of putting your child to bed is guaranteed by these (soldiers) who are deceased.”
Sgt. Mark Schoonhoven was buried with full military honors at Fort Custer Cemetery in Augusta. He leaves behind a wife and six children.
Donations in memory of Sgt. Schoonhoven can be made to by clicking the links below.