By Danielle Cooper. Published April 25, 2011
Airmen Zachary Cuddeback, 21, was killed in Germany on his way to serve a tour in Afghanistan. Cuddeback was the driver of an Air Force bus carrying soldiers getting ready to depart for a tour to Afghanistan when the bus was attacked by a Kosovo Albanian. Cuddeback was escorted back to O’Fallon, Illinois by his cousin that was stationed in Germany at the time of Cuddeback’s death.
When Cuddeback’s body returned to O’Fallon, people stood in silence along the side of the roads to honor him. Numerous companies within the area displayed signs in honor of the fallen solider. Volunteers placed approximately one-thousand flags along the route Cuddeback’s body were to be taken. Among these, there was one large flag held up by two fire trucks over the path in which the fallen soldier would pass under.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas came to O’Fallon, Illinois to protest the airmen’s funeral. The Illinois State Police escorted three adults and three children from the church to an area roughly twelve foot by twelve foot. The area was located on the corner of West Highway 50 and West State Street. The City of O’Fallon and the church agreed on this location for them to protest because it was a high traffic area and the city wanted them away from the funeral procession.
The six members of the church stood at the corner for about forty-five minutes holding signs that said “Don’t worship the Dead”, “America is Doomed”, and “Priests Rape Boys”. They feel that God has punished all Americans for their acceptance of homosexuality and that we really should not worship the fallen soldiers.
Celeste Lynam, a military wife, said, “While I fully support the freedom to protest, I wish they would find a more appropriate way to voice their opinions. I am so glad that the city of O’Fallon kept them away from the funeral, funeral route, and the cemetery.”
Eric Neblock, a student at McKendree University, said, “Although I do not agree with their message, they are given the right to protest under the constitution. This is by no means an endorsement of their actions, but they should be given the same right as every other American. That right being their ability to express their ideas, regardless if it is popular or not.”
The church has protested at many military funerals. When they are at the funerals they protest homosexuality and their negative views of other religions including Catholicism and Judaism. They also believe God does not tolerate homosexuality in the United States, especially in the military.
When asked about his opinion of the Westboro Baptist Church, Austin Vuichard, a student at McKendree, said, “While I agree that they are protected by the 1st Amendment, at what point is the line drawn? While they are civilized protests now, at some point, someone will have enough and violence may occur. They have wanted publicity and now they have it. What more do they have to prove?”
On the opposite side of the street from the Westboro Church were the people that were supporting the troops. Also, among the crowd were the Patriot Guard motorcyclists. Before riding in the procession, some came to the protest to show their support for the fallen soldier’s family as well as his fellow military men and women.
There were approximately three hundred Patriot Guard motorcycle riders present and were part of the procession through O’Fallon to the church and out to the burial site the next day. Many of the riders hailed from Illinois and Missouri. The Patriot Guard came to show respect for the family. Haley Turner, a freshmen at SEMO, said, “My dad was part of the Patriot Guard. Many of the Patriot Guards were there for the ceremony at the church. Basically, they create a giant wall of biker men to block the family from the protestors.”
Connor Holzinger, a junior at O’Fallon Township High School, went to the protest. He said, “Basically everyone was showing how proud they were to be from O’Fallon, and the people that were from out of town were just happy to be there to protest. A lot of people were driving by, honking their horns and waving flags as they went past. Westboro only had about six people and they were blocked off by the cops so you barely saw them. All of the counter protestors had flags and signs and it was just amazing.”
The people that were supporting the troops had signs that read “Proud to be an American”, “I love my soldier”, and “This country would not be free if it were no for our brave”. The people in the crowd were happy that they could show their support for the people in the military. While most people did not approve of the Westboro church coming and protesting at the funeral, the police said it was a peaceful protest.