VENTURA, Calif. - Just after sunrise Tuesday, columns of men and women in uniform saluted the casket coming off a plane at the Los Angeles International Airport.
It was the casket of Navy Shiplifter 2nd Class Claude Garcia, who came home to Ventura after his remains were presumed missing for decades.
Garcia grew up in Ventura and went to Ventura High School. On Dec. 7, 1941, he was stationed on the USS West Virginia that was moored at Ford Island Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft and hit by multiple torpedoes. Garcia was killed that day at just 25 years old.
Like so many others who have come home like this, respects were paid to Garcia Tuesday in the highest fashion.
For the last 12 years, Laura Herzog has honored one fallen member of the military after another. Only in recent years, though, has she seen an agency in the Defense Department (DPAA) use DNA technology to finally identify some of the fallen like Garcia.
"The DPAA is working very hard with the families — the MIAs and POWs — to get the DNA swabs from the families, so they match the bones and bring them home," Herzog said.
With each one of the fallen, like Garcia, Herzog deals with them like they’re her own family. She wants them to get the respect they deserve, even from a generation that didn’t even know them. "And, we can’t forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before us," Herzog said. "My oldest son is 30, and I’m thinking ‘Holy cow… that mom.’"
As she drove behind his hearse, Tuesday Herzog thought about Garcia’s mom and how, "Freedom isn’t free. It’s not free today and it wasn’t free then."
Herzog adds, "We say farewell my good and faithful servant… rest easy and welcome home."