With the sound of Glenn Henriksen's organ as a backdrop, over 1,000 friends and relatives paid homage to
Staff Sgt. Steve Blass at the Estherville Lincoln Central High School gymnasium Tuesday afternoon.
An extremely heavy law enforcement presence - bolstered by a contingent of Patriot Guard Riders - underscored how much the local community wanted to preserve the solemnity and dignity of the funeral service for Blass who died with four other crew members when their Black Hawk helicopter went down in Afghanistan March 11. They included Chief Warrant Officer Bryan J. Henderson, 27, Franklin, La.; Capt. Sara M. Knutson, 27, Eldersburg, Md.; Staff Sgt. Marc A. Scialdo, 31, Naples, Fla. and Spc. Zachary L. Shannon, 21, Dunedin, Fla.
Billy Hansen sang some moving versions of “My Way” and “Let it Be” at the funeral of Staff Sgt. Steve Blass on Tuesday at Estherville Lincoln Central High School.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
"Your presence here today is a very visible and powerful tribute to a fallen service member," said Chaplain Maj. Mike Crawford.
Crawford extolled Blass's love for his family as well as flying, adding, "This is the area that brought the Army into his life." And it was flying in a Black Hawk helicopter, Crawford said, that ended Blass's life.
Brigadier Gen. Peter A. DeLuca, who eulogized Blass the night before, posited the question that must have been in the minds of many relatives and friends present, "What does it all mean?"
"It's a question as a commander you should always ask," DeLuca said, adding that it will be a long time before the answer to that question is known.
DeLuca pointed to past battles and how their real significance was only known when they were emblazoned on the template of history.
The other question, said DeLuca, was "Why now, why here, why Steven?"
He said an older soldier told him once, "Life is about what you make it and the chances that you take."
"Let's look at his choices," DeLuca said of Blass. "He found a calling that he loved deeply" and "a beautiful wife that he loved very deeply."
Gov. Branstad's representative, Brigadier Gen. William Hill, said how moved he was by the thousands of flags throughout Estherville.
"I'm deeply touched by this huge gathering of support for Steve Blass's family," he said. "Steve was a true hero."
"Brave Americans have stepped forward and served the military of the United States. Steve is one of those brave Americans," Hill said.
"The Bible says those that mourn will receive God's special blessing," he said the Blass's family.
"There were, are and will be friends mourning with you throughout the Army and the world," said Capt. Christopher Aviles, whom Blass served under in Afghanistan. "He truly was the go-to guy."
Aviles said Blass never asked his soldiers to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
"He was a true professional in every sense of the word. He joked with the crew, nevertheless pushing everyone to be the very best they could be. I'd be hard-pressed to think of a time when he wouldn't be there."
Aviles lauded Blass's love of the Army and his sense of duty to his country.
"Perhaps the only thing he loved more was his wife and his son," Aviles said. "He loved America and the American way of life."
After Billy Hansen sang a moving version of Let it Be, Maj. Crawford offered a message of solace in a scripture from Mark 10:45.
"Even the son of God did not come to be served but to serve," Crawford said, adding that Blass had those same qualities.
"It's about being part of a team. Service is about living for others - putting the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before others."
Crawford spoke movingly, too, about sacrifice.
"For some it's a contribution. For others it's a total commitment. For Sergeant Blass, it was a total commitment. He was willing to sacrifice all for us."
After the service, the family and friends processed to Spencer for interment at North Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Spencer.