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SCV comes together for Acosta

Thousands turn out to honor memory of Spc. Rudy A. Acosta, who died while serving in Afghanistan

Posted: April 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Schoolchildren carry American flags as the hearse bearing the body of Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta is driven in front of Pinecrest School in Santa Clarita on Thursday. Hundreds lined the route waving American flags to support Acosta’s family.

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From morning prayers in a Canyon Country church to a sunny hillside on the other side of town where he was laid to rest, the last day of March in the Santa Clarita Valley was devoted to the memory of fallen U.S. Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta.

Acosta, from Canyon Country, died March 19 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. He was 19.

An estimated 5,000 people holding flags and waving to motorists — many with young children, some sitting in folding chairs, waiting for close to an hour — lined the streets of an approximately 12-mile route that encircled the city from the Santa Clarita Baptist Church on Luther Drive in Canyon Country to Eternal Valley Memorial Park on Sierra Highway in Newhall.

Funeral
Acosta’s father, Dante, standing beside a casket draped in the American flag, started off the day of remembrance by thanking the thousands who came to pay tribute to his son, who would have turned 20 years old in May.

More than 800 people attended the memorial service for Acosta inside the church, while more than 200 others filled the church’s neighboring parish, watching the service on big screens.

Outside both churches, scores of motorcycles lined the street: some belonged to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Many belonged to members of veterans groups, including members of California’s Chapter 507 of the American Legion and the Patriot Guard Riders.

“We want to thank you all for coming out to honor Rudy,” Dante Acosta said. “We want to extend our heartfelt thanks to the entire community.

“I appreciate you coming out to honor Rudy’s life, to honor his service,” he said. “My wife, Carolyn, and I have found in the last few weeks that he was even more exceptional than we realized.”

The service, balanced with songs of praise and prayers led by Pastor Scott Basolo, was broadcast live online, featuring testimonials from relatives and a video collage of photographs, most of a grinning Rudy.

David Church, Acosta’s uncle, told the story of how he swam with Acosta from Alcatraz Island to the mainland.

“He overcame the elements, the tides, the waves, the cold, the fear of the unknown,” he said. “Rudy just put his fear behind him — how very much like him.”

Motorcade
When the service ended, Acosta family members, traveling in limousines west along Soledad Canyon Road, were greeted by enthusiastic curbside strangers who turned out to show their respects, many with signs marked with the word “hero.”

Firefighters with the Los Angeles County Fire Department lined the bridge at Golden Valley Road as a motorcade led by about 30 sheriff’s deputies on motorcycles made its way down Soledad Canyon Road to Valencia Boulevard.

At the intersection of Valencia Boulevard and McBean Parkway, clusters of supporters greeted the procession.

Orchard Village Parkway was adorned with American flags planted along its median, as several young couples with small children waited with handheld flags on the shady west side of that street.

Sheriff’s Department motorcycles, cruisers and fire trucks leapfrogged along the route ahead of the procession to ensure traffic didn’t interfere with the motorcade.

Roadside posters of the fallen soldier marked the entire route.

Acosta and Cpl. Donald R. Mickler Jr., 29, of Ohio, were allegedly shot with small-arms fire by an individual from a military security group, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

As the procession traveled east on Lyons Avenue to Newhall Avenue, arriving in Newhall, Acosta’s presence was everywhere.

As the procession approached its final destination, turning into Eternal Valley from Sierra Highway, a poster of Acosta greeted them: “God Bless You and Your Family.”

Military funeral
Once at Eternal Valley, in front of the Santa Clarita Valley Veterans Memorial, Acosta’s younger cousins, such as Luke Shapiro, delivered their own testimonials about the young man they looked up to, calling him “a brother.”

They spoke softly at the graveside service to more than 300 people standing on a hill dotted with the grave markers of other fallen soldiers, under the American flag at half-staff and the POW/MIA flag below it.

It was 90 degrees at the top of a steep hill overlooking Sierra Highway, but still scores of people came.

One gray-haired man was loaded onto a stretcher and taken from the hilltop by ambulance.

Everyone else stayed for more prayers in front of the flag-draped casket, some gathering in the shade of trees.

Basolo invited everyone to join him in singing “Amazing Grace.” Many sang.

While the Lord’s Prayer was recited, pallbearers carried Acosta’s casket to a plot at the crest of a higher hill nearby.

Hero’s burial
The blast of a gun salute jolted the scores of onlookers as they watched Acosta’s immediate family climb a short distance to 10 green chairs, under the shade of a small pepper tree in front of the gravesite.

Men in uniform arranged themselves around the casket. With precision, they ceremoniously folded the flag that draped it.

The folded flag was then presented to the young man’s mother.

Dabbing her eyes, Carolyn Acosta accepted the flag.

Down the hill, all eyes of those attending looked at the Acostas. The men in uniform stood quietly at attention as “Taps” was played slowly on a single bugle.

The military men filed away from the gravesite.

At that point, Basolo bent down on one knee in front of Acosta’s parents and his surviving siblings and pulled them in for a final prayer.

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