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Community mourns Marine's death
Sep 23, 2004 12:00 am
MT. JULIET – An entire community turned out to honor Lance Cpl. Tyler Cates, the first Wilson County casualty of the war in Iraq, whose funeral service was held Wednesday at the First Baptist Church of Mt. Juliet.
Hundreds of mourners filled the sanctuary, including representatives from every branch of the armed services, local and regional fire and police, the Boy Scouts of America, the United States Postal Service and the many friends that Cates made during his short 22 years on this Earth.
Cates enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on Sept. 19, 2001. He joined the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment as a machine gunner on June 2, 2004 and deployed to Iraq in August.
Cates was killed by sniper fire on Sept. 20 in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq, a region known for frequent insurgencies.
Cates left behind a wife, who he married in January. The young widow, Lisa Cates, e-mailed the President of the United States on Sept. 23 asking for him to acknowledge her husband's sacrifice. She received a reply dated the same day, with President George W. Bush expressing his and the nation's gratitude for Cates' sacrifice, as well as his and First Lady Laura Bush's personal condolences for her loss. The letter, as well as a copy of the e-mail Lisa Cates sent, was displayed in the foyer of the church, next to the guest book for all to read.
Cates' body lay in a flag-draped coffin near the altar, watched over constantly by a Marine guard.
For two hours prior to the start of the 1 p.m. service, Patricia and Phillip Shaw, Cates' mother and step-father, were greeted by the hundreds of mourners who came to pay their respects. As the service began, a hush fell over the whispering mourners and the first strains of the National Anthem filled the sanctuary.
A soloist then performed "I'm Proud to Be an American" by Lee Greenwood.
Dr. Craig Goff, of Cook's United Methodist Church gave the eulogy, noting at the start that he found some similarities between Cates and King David, the reputed author of the 23rd Psalm.
'They both loved music," Goff said. "They both joined the armed forces at an early age and they both loved God's creation."
Goff encouraged the mourners not to let their sorrow last too long.
"We must pick up the pieces of our lives and live as an expression of honor for Tyler," he said. "The whole community is grieving for Tyler. Tyler was a product of this community. He graduated from Mt. Juliet High School, he was part of the scouting program at Cook's.
"He was a part of this community and we are proud of him," he added.
In life, Cates was always hopeful, Goff said, and did much to help those in his community. He said Cates also sincerely believed that his service in Iraq was the right thing to do.
"He became a scout to make a difference," Goff said. "He became a Marine to make a difference. He was active in the Toys for Tots program, and he believed that there was hope for the children of Iraq. He was there in the hopes of making a difference."
Cates' stepfather, Phillip Shaw then addressed the assembly, noting that he has a lot of stories about his son, but for the time being, was content to keep them to himself. Shaw said that when Tyler came home on leave, the aroma of Brasso would hang in the air for days after his departure.
"People have asked us if we are bitter," Shaw said. "We are not bitter, absolutely not. This boy in 22 years lived a fuller life than many people do. He was doing what he wanted to do."
Shaw then asked the mourners to say a prayer – not for his son, who he said he knows is in a better place – but for the "brothers" in arms, the soldiers still serving, putting their lives on the line for their country.
Patricia Shaw spoke briefly, noting that her husband had spoken of a lot of the things she and the family were feeling.
"Tyler was my life," she said. "He was my rock."
She said she has asked herself, "why?" in the short time since receiving word of her son's death.
"But don't be sad," she said. "I would like to thank everybody that I could share my son with you."
Cates' young widow, Lisa, then addressed the friends and family gathered to honor her husband's memory. She referred to the circumstances of her husband's death.
"He was shot from a distance by a coward who knew he could not get the best of a United States Marine at closer range," she said.
Before he left, Cates told his wife that he dreamed that he would not make it home from Iraq. In letters and phone calls home, Cates tried to keep up both her spirits and his.
She said it gives her peace to know that her husband had begun to forge a closer relationship with God shortly before his death. She said he had asked her to send him a "study Bible," so that he could have room to make notes as he read. He never got it.
"Our marriage was way, way too short," she said.
After Lisa concluded her remarks, "The Dance" by Garth Brooks was played.
Cates was awarded the Purple Heart after his death, which was presented to his mother at the conclusion of the ceremony while the "Halls of Montezuma" was played.
A piper played "Amazing Grace" as the long line of mourners filed past Cates' body.
Cates received full military honors, including a 21-gun salute outside the church at the conclusion of the presentation of the American flag to his mother.
As the military pall bearers lifted Cates' coffin and turned, the identification tags that once hung around the young man's neck were seen dangling from the handle of the receptacle. He was escorted to his final rest by a contingent of both Lebanon and Mt. Juliet Police, as well as representatives from the Wilson County Sheriff's Department.
Staff Writer Corinne Galeano can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.