The state’s ongoing COVID-19 concerns didn’t prevent a fallen Oklahoma serviceman from receiving a stirring welcome home Wednesday.
Family members of late Air National Guardsman Staff Sgt. Marshal D. Roberts of Owasso, who was killed two weeks ago in Iraq, were joined Wednesday morning by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, along with many friends and supporters, at the Tulsa Air National Guard Base for the return of his body.
After the transfer ceremony there, Roberts’ casket was transported to Floral Haven Funeral Home in Broken Arrow.
One of around 50 Patriot Guard riders who provided escort for the body, Ron Moseley said he was “thrilled” by the turnout of riders.
Ride commander for the outing, the Owasso resident said he hadn’t known how many to expect after issuing the call. The Patriot Guard has suspended operations due to the virus, and special permission was needed to accompany Roberts’ procession, he said.
Like their fellow riders on Wednesday, both Moseley and his wife, Cherry, were determined to be there.
“I know the emotional exhaustion of having a son overseas,” Cherry Moseley said, adding that they have two sons who both are veterans, one of whom like Roberts served in the Middle East.
What Roberts’ family is experiencing now “is the worst thing to ever go through,” she said.
“We just want to let them know there’s still people who care,” her husband added.
Moseley said he instructed all the riders to observe COVID-19 protocol, including keeping a safe distance. “And I brought extra hand sanitizer,” he said.
The procession to Broken Arrow was led by around 20 Tulsa Police Department motorcycle officers, with a host of law enforcement representatives from multiple agencies following behind.
A member of the Tulsa-based 138th Fighter Wing, Roberts, 28, died March 11 in a rocket attack at Camp Taji in Iraq.
At the time of his death, Roberts had been in Iraq for two months.
Among his survivors are his wife and fellow 138th Fighter Wing member Kristie Roberts, and his daughter, Paityn.
Speaking after the transfer ceremony, Stitt said he met and prayed with Roberts’ family, and looked on as they greeted the casket.
“We just wanted to pay our respects and honor this Oklahoman who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It’s the least we can do,” said the governor, adding that it was a reminder of the “real consequences” of warfare.
“It was really emotional,” Stitt added of seeing Roberts’ wife, 8-year-old daughter, his mother and other survivors.
“I just told them that my heart is breaking for them,” he said.
Col. Michael Meason, commander of the 138th Fighter Wing, said it was a “tough day for everyone, including our Guard family.”
“Our focus is supporting his family,” he said. “We have our charge — to remember him and his service.”
Like the Patriot Guard riders, community members weren’t deterred by COVID-19 concerns. Leading up to the base gates, 46th Street North was lined with supporters and flags.
Nancy Lytal and Al Waugh parked across from the gates with their three dogs.
Both are Air Force veterans, and Lytal once was stationed at the base.
“This man deserves to be honored,” Lytal said of Roberts. “He represents us all — the best we can ever be.”
Stitt said the family will hold a private burial service, but is postponing a public memorial due to the current coronavirus situation.
“I told them to let us know and we’re ready to come together and celebrate his life like he deserves,” Stitt said. “As Oklahomans we stand beside each other.”