Oh, Mr. Barela, for a 101-year-old man who lived a loner sheepherder’s life, you would have been so proud, if not amazed by the hundreds of mourners and well-wishers who gave you a Marine hero’s send-off on Friday.
Cpl. Remigio “Ray” Barela, the approximately 400 people came from across Wyoming including Casper, of course, Sheridan [26 on a bus rented by the Wyo W.E.S.T Warrior Foundation], Wheatland, Guernsey, Gillette and Rock Springs; Colorado, including relatives from your old stomping grounds from the San Luis Valley who weren’t aware of you a week ago; Montana; and even Ocean Shore, Wash.
Those were the ones who were able to get inside the chapel at the Oregon Trail State Veterans Cemetery. Many others just parked their vehicles all the way downhill on Cemetery Road and stood outside to salute you.
And people from nine states watched the ceremony on a live stream from a camera set up by Bustard’s Funeral Home, funeral home official Shayna Caseda said.
You were honored in a sermon by the Rev. Stephen Ziton of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.
A Marine himself, Ziton said veterans are men and women of great love, which means sacrifice.
“Cpl. Ray was a man of love because he made himself vulnerable,” Ziton said. “He was willing to sacrifice himself, to give himself for the country he loved.”
Ziton also talked about home, that Jesus asked us to take his hand and follow him home.
“And so, like St. Paul, we can be like those who grieve, but with hope, knowing that Cpl. Ray is with Christ and Christ is risen,” Ziton said. “May his memory be eternal.”
The well-wishers heard how you were born in Los Sauces, Conejos County, Colo., in 1918, Casper Police Chief Keith McPheeters said.
“For those of you who are not familiar with the San Luis Valley, they are among the hardest working individuals that ever graced this planet,” McPheeters said. “It’s my belief that Ray Barela had those attributes that he would have gained from his parents.”
McPheeters then read a letter from Gov. Mark Gordon. “Wyoming is proud to honor and remember one of our own,” Gordon wrote.
The governor noted you embodied the cowboy spirit, lived a solitary life as a sheepherder, vegetable farmer, and mechanic.
“But we here today in Wyoming demonstrate that our veterans are never alone,” Gordon wrote. “We remember your service, and are grateful for it. Thank you.”
As two Marines opened, then folded the flag, Cecil Barnes of the Natrona County United Veterans Council prayed, “Welcome him into your house to rest in peace, look with mercy upon the loved ones with his passing, comfort and console them with thine own tenderness.”
The two Marines then presented the flag to Rodney Knudson, your longtime caregiver and only friend in the last years of your life.
But he wasn’t the only one who cared.
As it turned out, unlike the early sketchy reports we reported, you weren’t nearly as alone as you might have thought.
Your story went nationwide, garnering the interest of media, the military, veterans and civilians fascinated by your quiet life packed with history.
Among those interested were Dallas psychologist and genealogist Dr. Theresa Vo who dug into military records to find you enlisted in the Marines in Denver in April 1942; trained at Camp Pendleton, Calif.; traveled through the South Pacific to New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, Pearl Harbor and Guam; worked as a mechanic and equipment operator; and was honorably discharged at Camp Pendleton in 1946.
And as it turned out, you had lots of family, and a lot of them filled the front pew.
Your oldest great-nephew Alex Ford said he wasn’t aware of you until a week ago.
He learned about you through Facebook when he saw a picture of your dad. He remembered when he was a child in Alamosa that his grandmother was looking for her brother, that is you, and never found you.
But that picture sparked a lot of curiosity and word spread quickly, said Ford, who now lives in Pueblo, Colo. “We’re a tight-knit family.”
Ford said other great relatives attended, too.
His sister Deborah Rangel — your great-niece — came from Alamosa and said you still have a surviving nephew and four surviving nieces.
Ford said more would have attended, but it was such short notice.
Even so, the service and the crowd of hundreds was wonderful.
“It’s beautiful, what they did for him,:” Ford said, looking toward the back of the chapel as the crowd thinned out. “Oh man, that’s love. That is love. There’s no words for it, no words. I’m happy.”