In Loving Memory of...
Airborne PFC Gunnar Hotchkin
Gunnar had been a building contractor, but had been laid off from his job. With a loving wife, Erin, and three beautiful, young children, he needed to support his family. So in 2009 at age 30, he enlisted in the military and soon found himself in Afghanistan.
A 1997 graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, Hotchkin was an All-American swimmer who always was supportive of his team, said his former swim coach Tom Schweer.
On Wednesday, June 16, 2010, Gunnar Hotchkin was killed by a roadside bomb blast that flipped over the armored tank he was riding in. Gunnar was 31.
A Message from the Hotchkin Family
My Dear Friends,
If you have tried to contact me, and I have not responded, it is because we have been kept very busy. We thank you so much for the offers of help.
On Friday I traveled with my daughter-in-law Erin, in the company of an army colonel, to Dover Air Force Base. We watched the dignified transfer of our son Gunnar home from Afghanistan in a flag draped box. This was by many degrees the hardest thing I have ever done, or ever will do. I want to tell you about Gunnar now, because he is a true American hero, and I want everyone to know about him and others like him, and to know the terrible sacrifice these soldiers and marines and families like ours are making in a war that no one pays much attention to, and that we must end as soon as we can. Gunnar's mission in Afghanistan was route clearance. This means he rode in heavily armored vehicles at the head of convoys of other troops, looking for IED's and then disarming them. They had found many, and for each one found, it is likely that lives were saved. On Wednesday, June 16, on a dangerous mission to an area with many insurgents, a roadside IED found him and flipped his vehicle, killing him and one other soldier in his unit. This is all we know right now.
Gunnar's family has been wrapped in the arms of the U.S. Army, both figuratively and literally. They are taking very good care of us. We must wait for direction from the army before we can be 100% definite, but we are planning to have a visitation at Gibbons-Elliston Funeral Home in Hinsdale on Thursday, June 24, probably starting at 2:00. We are planning a memorial service to be held at Union Church in Hinsdale at 10:00 Friday morning, followed by a military burial, we hope at Lincoln National Cemetery in Joliet. We will have a reception at the Community House in Hinsdale Friday afternoon, starting about 2:00 and we invite everyone to attend whether you were able to attend the service or not, and we will invite you to stay as long as you wish, to remember and celebrate this fun-loving man. Since this is an event organized by the Hotchkin family, drinks will definitely be involved.
If you are interested, I invite you to go to Gunnar Hotchkin's Facebook page. I think his wife Erin is going to open it up to friends of friends. Erin will also accept all friend requests for Gunnar. There you will see numerous postings by his fellow soldiers who testify to the fine, strong man our son ultimately became. Our pain is indescribable, just as our pride is immeasurable. He belongs to all of us now and honor covers him like his flag.
We are going through this as best we can, moment by moment. As I write this I am watching over my grandson Ethan sleeping on my couch. He will get me through this. We need and welcome your love and support-email messages or cards will do just fine, and we welcome you who are able to pay tribute to our fallen hero with us on Thursday and/or Friday.
Chris & Randy Hotchkin
On Thursday, June 24th, I woke up too early, restless and unable to stay in bed. I got up and went about watching the news and sort of wasting time until Greg was scheduled to wake, as he was flying his plane to visit his folks that morning and I wanted to be there to see him off on his flight.
Around 8am, I finally decided to check my email. There was an Extreme Short Notice email from the Patriot Guard Riders asking for members to help honor Gunnar Hotchkin whose body was arriving home to his family that morning at the National Guard Armory at Midway Airport in Chicago.
"The family of PFC Gunnar Hotchkin has invited the Patriot Guard to lead all aspects of this mission as we bring Gunnar back home to Illinois. We will pay tribute as he arrives at the airport, stand at his wake and escort him to his final resting place."
The mission started in two hours, but because it was short notice, I feared that not many riders would be able to plan to show up, so I knew I had to be there to help honor this hero who had recently been killed in Afghanistan. Greg understood and agreed that I should go. I got dressed and dashed to the airport.
I was happy (but not surprised) to see that many others had done the same. A soldier's last arrival home is a heartwrenching moment. His family needs all the support we can give them.
As we wait for Gunnar's plane to arrive, we catch up with fellow riders.
Ride captains (red hats and/or shirts) discuss the plans.
Lots of state police will help with the escort.
Brenda tells us about Gunnar and what the plans are for this mission.
We get word that the family is soon to arrive, so we prepare our flagstand to honor them.
These two guys who were next to me were firefighters. Gunnar's brother-in-law is a firefighter, so many were here, as well as along the route, to honor Gunnar.
The hardest moment...when the hangar door opens and you know the soldier is about to arrive. His family awaits (left in photo).
Gunnar's plane arrives and receives a water cannon salute of honor from the firetrucks.
The Patriot Guard prepare our line to escort Gunnar through the city.
(I always seem to be behind one of the biggest flags in the procession!)
Troopers stop traffic on our side of the highway. Traffic stops on its own on the reverse to watch the long procession. Everywhere along the route, police, firefighters and citizens stop to pay their respects.
Yes, most all the route, you ride with your heart in your throat as you witness these random acts of honor for these fallen heroes! I particularly lost it as we rode by his former High School. Just a few short years ago...he was a student enjoying high school and wondering what his future would hold. Moments like that make it hard to ride as you wipe away the tears during the procession that doesn't stop.
We arrive at the funeral home and stand in honor as Gunnar's body is removed from the hearse and brought into the funeral home to have some alone time with his family.
Time for me to depart, as I need to get out of Hinsdale and find my way back home because my 90 yr old mom will be waking soon and I need to be there for her.
Some of the photos on this page were taken by Don (such as the one of me leaving, above), our Patriot Guard Photographer who is at every mission and is a terrific photographer, as well as being able to tell touching photo stories. I wasn't able to attend the following day for the funeral, but you can view the pictures from that day, as well as see Don's other photos of both days and all other PGR missions at his site via this link for Gunnar: http://pgr.pxxq.com/Naperville4.htm
Here are a couple photos from the funeral...
Ride Captains, Brenda & Dave.
As we arrived at the funeral home, a very tearful young man came up to me and hugged me telling me that our procession had been awesome and asked me to thank everyone for showing his brother such a wonderful honor by being there for him and the family.
Brenda and Dave (pictured above) later received the following letter from Gunnar's brother: (I assume this is the same young man who hugged me at the funeral home.)
This is Kurt, Gunnar's younger brother. I just wanted to tell you how appreciative I am of you and the Patriot Guard Riders. I had heard of your services, mostly on the news concerning those awful protesters. But I'm sorry to say I was completely mistaken about what you guys really do, which is so much more than protection. You protect the dignity of what has been the most solemn of events throughout history: the burial of a young soldier (how anyone could be dumb enough to desecrate such a thing with protests is beyond me). But more than that, you add to it. The tribute you guys paid to my brother was the greatest tribute to anyone I have ever seen.
Seeing my brother's casket be flown in and loaded into a hearse was the worst moment of my life, and may forever be that way. I weep thinking about it. It may have been the only thing I'd remember of that day, if it weren't for you guys. But I remember the ride afterwards. I'll remember it with pride for the rest of my life. You and your wife had described it to me in person, but it still took me completely and utterly by surprise to see it. Your bikes flying the red, white, and blue. The salutes of countless servicemen at every intersection. The I-55, usually packed with the traffic of people going about their mundane business, made clear for my brother.
You guys stuck with my brother and my family every step of the way with more patience and respect than anyone. I could not have imagined it. I know you guys are mostly all veterans - and may I thank you for that - so you therefore consider this to simply be your honor. But I still feel I personally owe you guys something, which I promise to pay. I am inspired by what you guys do. It has made a very certain change in the way I see things.
Gunnar, I didn't know you, but it is obvious that you touched a lot of lives in your short life. That smile of yours is certainly a show stopper. I'm so sorry your family has lost you and, having lost my own father when I was 17, I know your children will always want to know everything about you and will think of you the rest of their lives. Dian ~
Gunnar's Facebook profile photo.
Gunnar with R. Lee Ermy (actor...mostly know as the Drill Sgt from the movie Full Metal Jacket)
Gunnar also did some modeling prior to joining the military.
Rest in Peace brave man! Your life flame will never truly be extinquished.
When a Soldier Dies
When a Soldier dies many miles from home
Leaving friends and family to wonder alone
Who will go to where they lie
To say good words when a Soldier dies?
When a Soldier dies we ponder then
What might they have done, what might they have been?
But in our grief, our shock and our cries,
We are simply numb when a Soldier dies
When a Soldier dies we measure the pain
Did they fight for freedom? Did they die in vain?
The answers are important you can’t deny
To these questions we ask when a Soldier dies
When a Soldier dies we think of a way
To remember forever the year and the day
That they gave their life and we think with a sigh
We’ll never forget when a Soldier dies
So enjoy your Freedom, your family and fun
But stop to remember where it all came from
Freedom is triumph over evil and lies
And it’s paid for each time a Soldier dies
Jim Willis, Director
Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs
February 14, 2004
See more photos from this PGR Mission, here: http://pgr.pxxq.com/Naperville4.htm
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