Post-Tribune (Merrillville, IN)
April 20, 2003

'He's gone. I'll never see my baby again'

                         Rios, killed in Iraq, given Marine honors at funeral.

                         By Sharlonda L. Waterhouse / Post-Tribune staff writer
                         GRIFFITH - The Marine honor guard thrust their shoulders
                         back outside the vestibule.
                         The stars and stripes flew beneath Jesus' marbled feet.
                         There was no separation of Christian faith and patriotic fervor
                         Saturday morning as stragglers squeezing veteran berets and
                         sailor hats nestled beside Catholics making the sign of the
                         cross to bid farewell to Marine Sgt. Duane Roy Rios.
                         In eulogizing the Griffith High School alum who died April 4 at
                         age 25 on front lines outside Baghdad, the Rev. Bill Hallstead
                         emphasized that Rios' stand is one that should make both
                         lovers of God and lovers of liberty proud.
                         "I hate war with every part of my being," said Hallstead, pastor
                         of First Christian Church in Griffith. "But evil can never be
                         banished by words and wishes. The only way to stop a
                         schoolyard bully is to stand up to him. That's also true of an
                         international bully. Standing up means that we will endure pain
                         and heart-wrenching loss.
                         "But there are some things worth fighting and dying for. Duane
                         understands that and responded. ... He gave his life in the
                         finest spirit of the Marines and in the finest spirit of
                         Americans," Hallstead said.
                         Looking pointedly at Rios' widow Erica, who sat huddled with
                         14 Marines from North Carolina and her husband's Camp
                         Pendleton in California, Hallstead said Rios was "too brave to
                         shun the battle" and "too noble to seek his own safety."
                         He said while friends and family might wonder why the Marine
                         has to die and feel hatred at the nation of Iraq, that was just a
                         natural part of mourning. He urged listeners to give their grief
                         to God who "has a plan that will be fulfilled."
                         In the background, more than 1,000 listened, some sighing or
                         sobbing, as they filled the sanctuary and overflowed the
                         courtyard of St. Mary Church in Griffith.
                         The minister told the mourners to grieve not only Rios' death
                         but the "sinfulness" of a "flawed and frustrated world" he said
                         made war necessary.
                         He consoled family members by saying that peace, a safer
                         world and the freeing of oppressed people made Duane's
                         death, Northwest Indiana's second Iraqi War victim, valuable:
                         "Some will be troubled by the brevity of Duane's life," Hallstead
                         "Twenty-five years is too young to die. Some will be tempted
                         to think that was a waste, but it is more of a waste for
                         someone to live to 100 and never do anything to make the
                         world a better place. Duane used his life. He accomplished
                         something and stood up for things that make the world a better
                         Bringing the crowd to a respectful hush, Erica arose, took the
                         altar, and responded by saying that though she was proud to
                         be Duane's wife, she knew he was not hers to keep, but to
                         give away.
                         "Sometimes life throws things at us that we can't explain. This
                         is one of them," said the San Clemente, Calif., woman who
                         married Rios in 1996 right after high school.
                         "Duane was full of love and loved to laugh. His smile lit up
                         everyone around him. People were drawn to him. He was
                         infectious and devoted to his family, friends and his fellow
                         Marines. It's because of men like Duane that we have
                         freedom," she said.
                         "It's a comfort for me today to know he's in a better place. He's
                         with his Grandma. He won't be forgotten. He will always have
                         my heart," Erica Rios said.
                         Standing along the casket, the Rev. Theodore J. Mens, pastor
                         of St. Mary Church, sprinkled holy water and blessed Duane's
                         body and spirit, saying "Sgt. Duane Rios go in peace and rest.
                         Glory be to God."
                         Marines then stood in unison to escort the body outside,
                         where well-wishers enveloped family as the stood before Rios'
                         flag-draped casket awaiting the 21-gun salute.
                         As seven Marines lifted their rifles and shot off the first rounds,
                         relatives, who had been holding back emotions, let sounds of
                         anguish burst forth.
                         As a bugler sounded taps, white-gloved Marines lifted the
                         American flag on the maple casket and held it shivering in the
                         light breeze.
                         Then they slowly and carefully folded it, gave salute, and
                         handed it to Erica, along with a plaque and red rose. Family
                         members were told earlier this week that Rios, assigned to 1st
                         Combat Engineer Battalion Bravo Co., would receive the
                         Purple Heart.
                         A Marine said Saturday that will be conferred privately.
                         The crowd parted to create a "row of honor," allowing escorts
                         to carry the casket to the hearse for the final ritual: cremation.
                         Silently, Erica stepped forward for a last lingering look at the
                         body and give the final push on the hearse door, symbolizing
                         the formalities had concluded.
                         Her mother Brenda Batusic of Hammond, who considered
                         Duane a son, burst out with a tormented cry: "He's gone. ... I'll
                         never see my baby again."
                         Comforting her, Marines gave Batusic a keepsake flag and
                         handed a third one to John Rios, Duane's father.
                         The crowd closed in with hugs for relatives and sympathetic
                         tears. Some bent down to sink miniature flags into the ground.
                         The body rolled off to the roar of Harley-Davidsons as biker
                         veterans wearing eagle helmets or American flag bandannas
                         gunned their engines to follow to the hearse to Kuiper's
                         Funeral home.
                         To the wind, they let fly paraphernalia attached to their seats,
                         like POW and MIA flags. In the 40-bike motorcade, one banner
                         especially stood out.
                         It said, "God Bless the U.S.A."