Small American flags led the way home for Lance Cpl. Kevin Cornelius, the miniature stars and stripes fluttering in the breeze down the long driveways of Lakeside High School, where classmates, friends and family gathered to mourn, honor and remember the fallen Marine.
Hundreds gathered Sunday to watch the blue hearse and family procession make its way to the school for the public viewing hours, a small sign of respect for a young man who gave his life for freedom, Debbie Jones said.
Jones stood on the sidewalk with her sons and members of several Boy Scout troops, all waving flags, wiping away tears, the men clutching their hats to their chests.
The crowd was there to honor Cornelius, who was shot and died Aug. 7 in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. He was the son of Ashtabula Police Capt. Gerald Cornelius and Marlene Cornelius and Valerie and Bob Silleck, all of Ashtabula. He was the brother of U.S. Army Second Lt. Eric Cornelius. Kevin
Chip Ranck, 14, is a freshman at Lakeside High School. He never met Cornelius, but he said the fellow Lakeside Dragon will never be forgotten.
“I just felt it was important to be here, because (Cornelius) was from my school. He wasn’t that much older than I am. I know his life was cut short, but I know by the people here that he will never, never be forgotten, even by the people who didn’t know him personally,” Ranck said.
Described as a “fun guy with a great attitude,” friends recount endless tales of summer days, school mischief and plenty of hours swimming in Lake Erie.
“Kevin was always cracking jokes,” friend Ernest Champagne said. “They were mostly inappropriate jokes, but we all laughed with him. He was just a funny guy with a lot of heart.”
Betsy Franklin, friend of Cornelius’ mother, Valerie Silleck, said she remembers the young Marine’s high school open house.
“I remember the way he was so proud to be going to the Marines. He had such a positive attitude. I told him I was so proud of him and I am still so proud of him,” she said.
But it was mostly the people who didn’t know Cornelius personally who came to stand by the roadside Sunday.
“I came to say thanks today,” Nichole Colby said. “And I wasn’t the only one. I didn’t know (Cornelius), but I have the deepest respect for him. I can say that there was a display of chivalry among Ashtabula County residents today. Everyone here cares.”
Darla Cunningham brought her son Tommy, 11, to pay their respects.
“I didn’t know Kevin, but I knew of him,” she said. “This has been so hard. I’ve cried a number of times. I get goosebumps just thinking about his death. I felt like being here today was important.”
Cunningham’s voice waivered and dropped to a scant whisper when she thought of what she wishes she could say to Cornelius.
“Thanks. I would simply say thanks. I don’t think anything I could say would ever be enough. This thank you is an overwhelming feeling.”
The funeral will be held at 1 p.m. today at Bethany Lutheran Church, 933 Michigan Ave., in the Ashtabula harbor. Family and escorts will gather at LHS and proceed to the church at 11:30 a.m.
Supporters are encouraged to stand anywhere along the processional route, which will begin at the south entrance of LHS and turn left onto Route 84 east. The funeral procession will follow Route 84 east down Bunker Hill Road to Main Avenue.
The procession will go through downtown Ashtabula, through Five Points and onto Lake Avenue (north), past Ashtabula County Medical Center, and continue on Lake Avenue to West Ninth Street, turning left (west) for one block before turning on Michigan Avenue and arriving in front of Bethany Lutheran Church.
The Rev. Larry Mackey of Bethany Lutheran Church and Karen Tews, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, will officiate. Family and close friends will be seated in the sanctuary, overflow in the basement of the church and at Washington Elementary with an audio/video broadcast, according to Ducro Funeral Service.
Following the service, military honors will be held outside the church before a private family procession will return the casket to the Ducro Funeral Home in a horse-drawn hearse.
Cornelius will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. at a later date, Ducro officials said.