Yuba-Sutter honors 'American hero'
American flags fluttering gently in their hands, friends and family of Spc. Chase Marta sat silently on the tarmac at Beale Air Force Base on Wednesday, waiting for their beloved soldier to make his final trip home.
About 60 civilians had gathered for the transfer of remains, growing silent as the plane touched down and slowly made its way toward them. As bagpipes played, the Army National Guard Honor Guard served as pallbearers, grasping the wooden handles of Marta's flag-draped casket in their white-gloved hands and escorting it to the waiting hearse.
Along nearby Arnold Avenue, hundreds of airmen flanked both sides of the road as far as the eye could see. As the procession began to pass, they stood tall in their camouflage uniforms and raised their hands in stiff salutes.
"If there were any doubt that he was a hero before today, there is absolutely no doubt now," said Gayle Marta, Chase Marta's aunt. "It just made us feel so proud and so humble that they'd pay that kind of a tribute to him."
The honor and dignity bestowed on her nephew was palpable, she said.
"We decided as we were rolling out of there, there could not be one single solitary person on Beale who was not on that road," she said.
More than 1,000 airmen were estimated to be standing along the route to the gate.
"This is the least we could do for this soldier who gave his life in service of this country," Col. Phil Stewart, commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, said in a statement. "Our motto here is 'One team, one fight.'"
Marta, 24, was one of three soldiers killed May 7 in Afghanistan when his unit was hit by an improvised explosive device.
He had been part of the 82nd Airborne Division, headquartered in Fort Bragg, N.C., and assigned to the 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
To pay tribute to the fallen soldier, thousands of people stood along the 17-mile route from Beale to Ullrey Memorial Chapel in Yuba City, waving American flags as the procession filed past.
"Truly, patriotism is alive," Gayle Marta said. "It showed to us that everybody was hurting with us and that they appreciated the sacrifices he made."
Somehow, it eases the family's pain, she said.
Upon hearing of Marta's death, Sgt. Jeremy Allen immediately filed for leave with his commanders in Fort Carson, Colo., and made the 20-hour drive to Yuba City to pay his respects to the young soldier he recruited 11⁄2 years ago.
"I would have driven to the end of the world for Chase," he said. "It's a tragedy, and my heart goes out to the family. He was too young to go."
He still remembers the day Marta strolled into the Chico recruiting office, talking about how he wanted to be the best of the best.
Before he left for basic training, the two men would train together and go running in Bidwell Park, and they continued to stay in touch, even after Marta's deployment.
"He wasn't just somebody I put in the Army. He was my friend and brother in arms," Allen said. "I just needed to be here to say my farewells and show the family how he impacted my life just by him joining the service."
When Allen leaves for Afghanistan in a few months as an electronic warfare specialist, working to prevent deaths from remote IEDs, Marta will be in his thoughts.
"I know he did great things for his country. I'm sure this is the way he would have wanted to go," Allen said. "He was very proud of his choice to join, and I think Yuba City did him very good today. It was just great to see people who didn't even know him there to show their support for an American hero."
Retired Senior Master Sgt. John Sellers lowered the flag at his home just off North Beale Road to half-staff and saluted as the procession drove by.
"Young military deserve all the respect they can get," he said. "You feel it very deeply."
Marysville resident Rhonda Coward, who has a son in the Marines and a brother-in-law in the Army, said she felt compelled to be along the flag line.
"These young men are brothers and sons. They are family to somebody," she said from her spot on North Beale Road. "He gave the ultimate sacrifice."
Jonathan Boyd rode down to North Beale Road on his tractor with a giant American flag waving tall above him.
He did not know Chase Marta personally, but he knew the family and admitted he shed tears as the hearse passed.
"It's just respect," he said. "They go over there and they are all young kids and then they are gone."
Marta, a 2006 Yuba City High School graduate, had recently been promoted from the rank of private first-class to specialist and is remembered by his friends and family as being happy-go-lucky, having a great sense of humor and a love of cooking, martial arts and military history.
As the procession made its way through Linda, Marysville and Yuba City, Gayle Marta and Chase's mother, Karyn Stone Marta, waved out the window of the donated limo to supporters.
"All she kept saying over and over and over was 'Thank you,'" Gayle Marta said. "I think if she could have, she would have gotten out of the car and hugged every single one of them."
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at email@example.com or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.