Capt. Aaron Blanchard was eulogized by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, family members and others as a warm husband and father, son and brother, a faithful Christian, a fearless boy who became a fearless Marine.
Above all else he was an American patriot, Inslee told a huge crowd gathered Saturday for Blanchard’s funeral at Yakima’s Stone Church.
America “is the land of the free because it is the land of the brave, and Capt. Aaron Blanchard epitomized that,” Inslee said.
“I do not know who can claim title to the Greatest Generation,” added Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, deputy commander of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, “but I do know Aaron was among the greatest of his own generation.”
Capt. Blanchard, a 32-year-old native of Selah and married father of two, was killed April 23 in a rocket attack on his base in Afghanistan. He had retrained as an Army attack helicopter pilot after serving two tours in Iraq as a Marine.
Saturday’s turnout included a large contingent of Patriot Guard Riders, many of whom escorted the officer’s body Friday from the Yakima Air Terminal to Keith & Keith Funeral Home.
Under blazingly bright blue skies, the hearse carrying Blanchard’s body arrived at Stone Church at 10:52 a.m., passing under an arch created by ladder trucks from the Yakima and Toppenish fire departments.
The hearse was trailed by two limousines carrying members of the Blanchard family, including his wife, Rebecca, and their children, Hunter and Amalia.
At 11:12, a casket draped with an American flag was removed from the hearse and wheeled into the church, where it sat throughout the service.
Inslee, a former Selah resident whose son once played on a youth soccer team with Aaron Blanchard, spoke after an opening prayer by the Rev. Glenn VanZandt, who knew the Blanchards at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Inslee told Becky Blanchard he represented 6½ million Washingtonians, all of whom, he said, “would like to wrap their arms around you.”
Recounting some advice on grief that he once heard from Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his first wife and a baby girl in a car accident 41 years ago, Inslee told the young widow that someday her pain will be replaced by the warmth of memories.
“Until that day,” he added, “our prayers and hearts will be with you.”
Michael and Karl Blanchard recalled their brother as a fierce competitor in sports, an avid elk hunter and a daredevil whose four-wheeling motto, “If you don’t make it the first time, back up and increase velocity,” apparently bore strong insight into his attitude on several levels.
In a short but tear-stained eulogy of her own, Becky Blanchard praised her slain husband as a patient and playful father to his children and a warm, masculine partner who was an unabashed bard of silly love songs.
Rather than be upset that she has been widowed at a young age, Becky Blanchard said she is glad she knew and loved Aaron Blanchard when they were both young and full of life.
“There aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to describe the goodness of the greatest gift God ever gave me,” she wept.
VanZandt, the Alabama minister, hailed Aaron Blanchard as a “true American hero,” and he assured the officer’s family they will someday be reunited because Jesus Christ had abolished spiritual death through his sacrifice.
“One day Jesus will have the final say, and so will Aaron, and so will we, because this is not the end,” he said.
After the service was over, the audience rose as one as the casket was wheeled out of the church.
A throng gathered there and watched expectantly as the casket was placed back into a hearse. Blanchard will be buried today in the Washington State Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake.
• Chris Bristol can be reached at 509-577-7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ChrisJBristol.
• This article has been corrected to reflect the full name of the Patriot Guard Riders.