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Local

Wounded Warrior returns to Wall

Funeral service held in Marseilles in advance of Freedom Run

The Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial has hosted scores of service memorializing the men and women who have died fighting for their country. Until Friday, however, it had never been the cite of a funeral service. Wounded Warrior Kevin Baker, who rode his hand-operated bike in the procession to the re-dedication ceremony last year at the Freedom Wall, was eulogized at the same spot this year, one day before this year's Freedom Run
The Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial has hosted scores of service memorializing the men and women who have died fighting for their country. Until Friday, however, it had never been the cite of a funeral service. Wounded Warrior Kevin Baker, who rode his hand-operated bike in the procession to the re-dedication ceremony last year at the Freedom Wall, was eulogized at the same spot this year, one day before this year's Freedom Run

MARSEILLES - Towering thunderclouds, lightning and rain mingled Friday evening with the tears shed at the memorial funeral of the late Kevin Baker, a Wounded Warrior who died last winter.

His is the first funeral service to be conducted at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial, built in 2003 to honor all military personnel nationwide who lost their lives in the country's wars in the MidEast since the late 1970s.

The service was also the only funeral for Baker, of Norman, Okla.

About 150 motorcyclists and other members of the public attended the military farewell to the former serviceman, who was paralyzed from the waist down following a combat-related incident in Iraq about three years ago.

Baker was one of about 20 Wounded Warriors who rode hand-operated bicycles in the procession to the annual re-dedication ceremony last year at the Freedom Wall.

His funeralá preceded the annual ceremony Saturday, in which the names of 398 military killed in the past 12 months were recognized and honored on the wall. More than 5,000 names are on the eight panels of the wall at this time.

"Kevin had a mission," Tom Yarber of Justice said in the eulogy to Baker. "He was starting from his hometown to go to Washington, D.C., to talk about the Honor and Remember flag, and to tell about the wall. Then he was going to ride his bicycle here for the Freedom Run tomorrow."

Baker didn't feel well on the ride, however, and called his friends, John and Susan Marino of Vinton, La. The couple, who lost their son, John Michael Hennen, in combat two years ago, drove 15 hours round trip to bring Baker to their home.

"They gave him all the hospitality, they ate dinner, watched a movie, looked at some of John's belongings, and then Baker went to bed," Yarber said. "That was the last time they talked to him. Kevin passed away in his sleep."

To the Marinos, Yarber said: "Your 15-hour ride to get Kevin to a comfortable spot was outstanding. You are wonderful, wonderful people, and Kevin meant a lot to you."

The Rev. John Walker of First Presbyterian Church of Ottawa noted the amount of love displayed for Kevin during the service.

"A very brave soldier," he said. "Kevin's life was extraordinary in many ways. Obviously, he touched you."

Walker spoke of Baker being a special person to so many people.

"God, receive our brother, Kevin Baker, as we commit his ashes to their final resting place," he prayed.

U.S. Navy personnel folded the national flag and presented it to Baker's mother, Suzanne Moore of Danville, Va.

"On behalf of the President of the United States," they said.

George Lutz, creator of the Honor and Remember flag, presented one banner to Moore, another to the Baker family, and a third to the Marinos. The service concluded with a three-volley rifle salute and playing of Taps.

Moore noted afterward it was comforting to have somebody "so loved by so many people in so many different places."

Yarber said following the service that many more people attended than originally expected, and recalled last year when Baker paid his first and only visit to the Freedom Wall.

"Kevin looked at all the panels for a certain name, and we located it for him," said Yarber. "This was the name of the man who had saved Kevin's life. The conflict they were involved in at the time ... he laid on top of Kevin and told him, 'Kevin, don't move,' and this gentleman died.

"We took Kevin to the wall after we found the name. It was one of the hardest times. Kevin broke down."

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