Fallen US Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo returned home to Lawrence on Saturday — 20 years after the September, 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and only weeks after the war in Afghanistan spurred by that day’s events came to an end.
Rosario Pichardo, 25, was killed when two suicide bombers attacked the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 26. The marine was screening women and children at the airport who were trying to flee following the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan when two large bombs detonated, killing 12 other servicemembers and at least 170 Afghans.
A charter plane carrying her remains arrived at Logan International Airport Saturday morning. Her mother, grandmother, and three siblings were present as her flag-draped casket was lowered onto the tarmac. Governor Charlie Baker, Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and other state officials paid their respects, followed by a funeral procession to Lawrence.
“The family has paid the ultimate price to protect our country’s liberties,” Markey said. “And looking at this family, realizing how much they have sacrificed means that we can never forget this family. We can never forget what they have given to protect every other family in our country.”
It was Rosario Pichardo’s second deployment to Afghanistan, and she has been posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
In an overwhelming show of support, first responders and veterans raised American flags from many highway overpasses as the hearse passed by on the route to Lawrence.
Wilmington Fire Lt. Brooke Green, who was among a group of firefighters and veterans who watched the hearse go by from an overpass in Wilmington, said, “Being in public safety — fire, police, EMT, and the military — we’re all cut from the same cloth. Many of us are previous military members. Everybody feels it.”
Green, who served in the National Guard, and her fellow crewmembers held up American flags as they stood next to a retired firetruck, donned with a larger flag.
“Seeing this was pretty powerful and very moving on a day like today when everyone is a little overwhelmed in general,” Green said. “It was like we were bringing back a little bit of that sense of patriotism we all felt after 9/11.”
Red Reardon, who watched the procession from an overpass near the Stoneham/Winchester line on Interstate 93, said the blaring horns and waves from vehicles he saw on the highway also reminded him of this day 20 years ago.
“Then the highway was suddenly empty, the waving crowd grew silent, and the procession bringing Sgt. Rosario took her home,” Reardon said. “It was heartbreakingly perfect.”
Hundreds of people holding American flags lined the streets of Lawrence and other routes along the way as the procession headed to the Farrah Funeral Home on Lawrence Street. The funeral home was not open to the public Saturday, but those wishing to pay their respects may attend a public wake at Veterans Memorial Stadium next to Lawrence High School — where Rosario Pichardo graduated — from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Lt. David Broadhurst of the Methuen Fire Department was among many first responders who greeted Rosario Pichardo’s hearse after it pulled off of Interstate-495 and made its way through Lawrence. About 15 fire trucks lined the roadway as the procession rolled by, with two ladder trucks draped with a flag.
“It’s a somber thing. You see the funeral procession go by and it goes by slow, and you see the looks on the family’s faces,” Broadhurst said. “It makes you reflect.”
Broadhurst, whose son is in the military, said, “You think about your own family and what they could be going through. I’m just glad we could be a part of this so we could bring something to this family.”