'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
"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
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
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
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."