Douglas County: 500 mourners attend soldier’s memorial
March 19, 2009
GARDNERVILLE ” For the past several years, Gardnerville resident Sally Wiley has donated hundreds of hours to causes in Carson Valley: Blue Star Mothers, Republican party, Carson Valley Community Food Closet, the Family Support Council.
It was Carson Valley’s turn to support Wiley on Tuesday as she celebrated the life and death of her son killed Feb. 15 in Iraq.
More than 500 people filled the pews at St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville for a final farewell to Staff Sgt. Sean Derrel Diamond on his 42nd birthday.
The memorial service concluded with a Nevada National Guard 21-gun salute and flag ceremony.
From Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons and First Lady Dawn Gibbons to Daniel and Megan Tingle, who brought their four-month-old daughter Avery, all had been touched by Wiley’s kindness.
Many had not met her son, but were heeding the counsel of Father Paul McCollum who urged the church community “to pray her through this.”
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Attendees followed a bagpiper into the church pastoral center for a reception.
“Through knowing Sally we know Sean,” said Jim Baushke, who acted as master of ceremonies for the event. “We feel the loss and we feel the grief.”
Erin Alvarez, a member of the Blue Star Mothers, arrived early with other volunteers to decorate the center. Military fatigue hats filled with shamrocks sat as table centerpieces.
“Sally is the go-to person,” Alvarez said. “She’s one of the anchors of our group. She’s a lightning bolt. Sally is always where you need her to be.”
Photo boards of Diamond chronicled his life from infancy to adulthood.
“It was an absolute shock to all of us,” Alvarez said of Diamond’s death. “You don’t want it to happen, you push it to the back of your mind. It never even crossed my mind. We thought we were immune.”
But, Alvarez said, that’s when the support kicks in, from friends and other families who have suffered the loss of a soldier.
Before the service, Ed Schober of Carson City brought a vase of red roses, a condolence card and a donation for the Blue Star Mothers.
Schober identified himself as a “Gold Star parent,” a change in status that comes with the death of a soldier.
His son, Sgt. Anthony Schober, 23, was killed May 12, 2007, in Iraq.
“I’m here to give my respects,” he said. “Sally helped us out a lot when my son died. When I found out she lost her son, it just devastated me.”
Daniel Tingle, 23, dressed in Army fatigues, recalled Wiley’s help through the Blue Star Mothers after he was seriously injured in Iraq in January 2007.
He and his wife have returned to Carson Valley where he begins work March 23 for the Nevada Department of Corrections.
“Sally helped plan Daniel’s welcome-home party,” Megan Tingle, 22, said.
Wiley was honored as a Gold Star mother in a moving ceremony after the memorial service.
The gold star indicates a mother has lost a son or daughter.
“Becoming a Gold Star mother is an honor only your child can give you,” said Marge Greenfield of Reno. “The blue star means hope and pride, the gold star means sacrifice.”
She urged Wiley’s friends and supporters “to keep up the hugs.”
“The best thing you can give them is prayer,” she said.
Debbie Walker, whose son, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Rodgers, died in Afghanistan in May 2007, accompanied Wiley into the service.
Like the other Gold Star families, Walker was repaying Wiley in-kind for her support when Walker’s son was killed.
“It’s best for us to try to do this in a positive way,” she said. “We’ve got to remember it’s a celebration.”
Judy Houle of Gardnerville attended the service and reception with her best friend Patricia Smith of South Lake Tahoe whose son died a year ago.
She was hoping to get some support for the Carson Valley communities to display yellow ribbons to support families waiting for the return of a loved one in the military.
She was attempting to contact Gardnerville officials to present her idea.
“I just think it would be nice,” Houle said.
Outside St. Gall, members of the Patriot Guard Riders held flags aloft as people filed into the church.
“I just want to thank you guys,” said a man as he walked into the church.
The Patriot Guard Riders is a national organization of motorcycle riders who attend services for fallen soldiers at the request of the family. Their purpose is two-fold: show respect for the family and shield mourners from protesters.
Donations in Sean Diamond’s name may be made to:
Sierra Nevada Chapter of Blue Star Mothers
P.O. Box 714
Minden, NV 89423