GRANTSBURG, WIS. – The line to enter Grantsburg Senior High School to say goodbye to Sgt. Carson Holmquist snaked around a berm in front of the school Saturday for much of the two hours the community was welcome at his visitation.
Holmquist, 25, was one of four marines killed at a Navy operational center in Chattanooga, Tenn., earlier this month. His body was returned to his hometown of 1,300 about 80 miles northeast of the Twin Cities on Friday, flags and spectators lining the highway into the city. Saturday’s services at his alma mater preceded a private burial with military honors on the edge of town.
“When anything bad happens, everybody comes out. That’s just the way Grantsburg is,” said Julie Fiedler, an elementary schoolteacher.
Holmquist, who was a 2008 Grantsburg High graduate, was one of the handful of students from each year’s graduating class of 50 to 60 that Fielder said enlists. On Saturday, scores of both active and retired servicemen and women attended the service. Patriot Guard Riders stood vigil, each hoisting American flags outside of the school. Roughly 60 flag-bearing motorcycles lined a street nearby.
Richard Burt, a veteran of the Marines, rode his Harley Davidson from his St. Paul Park home to attend, leaving at 7 a.m. and picking up Candy Maloney from Inver Grove Heights along the way.
“Me being in Vietnam and him dying in military duty,” Burt said of what inspired him to make the trip.
Maloney is a friend of the grandmother of U.S. Army Specialist Joseph A. Kennedy, an Inver Grove Heights native killed in Afghanistan in 2011. He also was 25 when he died.
“You lose a child in that situation — he was a very young man — you never heal,” Maloney said. “The grief just changes.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker canceled presidential campaign stops in North Carolina and New Hampshire to attend Holmquist’s funeral, the second service for the five men killed on July 16.
As they walked out of the school Saturday, Charley King, and her husband, Bill King, Jr., each thanked the Patriot Guard and law officers from all over the region. Charley is a cousin of Holmquist’s stepmother and Bill spent 21 years in the U.S. Army.
“There’s tears involved, there’s love involved. All that mixed up in one big bowl,” Bill King said.
Though Holmquist’s killing occurred a time zone away, the Kings still considered it to have happened in their own backyard.
“Even though he was stationed in Tennessee he was still here. He was raised here.” Bill King said.
Stephanie Sanvig and her husband, Tyler, drove up from Woodbury to attend. Stephanie grew up in Grantsburg with Holmquist, and said he worked on her father’s dairy farm for years.
“He was a country boy,” she said. “He liked being on the farm.”
The long line of family, friends and townspeople waiting to greet the Holmquist family was largely somber and silent.
“I’m really not that surprised to see such a big line, just because knowing him and knowing how much people cared about him,” Sanvig said.
Capt. Andrew Chrestman, public affairs officer for the Marine Forces Reserve, noted Grantsburg’s population sign that marks the entrance into town. If he had to guess, he said it looked like all were at the school on Saturday.
Though there was little talk of the man who ended Holmquist’s life, Chrestman reflected on the rare manner of his death while in the line of duty. For the Marines, accustomed to loss abroad, this grieving process has a different feel.
“You expect to be safe in your own country,” Chrestman said.
Chrestman said all four Marines killed during the shooting are under consideration to receive Purple Hearts.
At the end of Saturday’s services, Marines loaded his casket, covered by the flag, as dozens of other Marines and family looked on. Six motorcycles led Holmquist’s funeral procession to his final resting place. As the procession left, a few onlookers remained but the day’s quiet persisted.