PARKERSBURG - A Wood County Navy explosives specialist returned home for the final time Friday afternoon, escorted by law enforcement officers, military personnel and members of the West Virginia Patriot Guard.
According to Navy public affairs officer Lt. David Bennett, the body of Chief Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician Nicholas H. Null, 30, of Washington, W.Va., arrived Friday at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport from Dover Air Force Base, Del.
Null was one of 30 U.S service members killed when a coalition CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in Afghanistan Aug. 6. He will be laid to rest in Parkersburg.
The body of Wood County resident and Navy SEAL Nicholas Null arrives at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Friday. Null, 30, was one of 30 U.S. servicemen killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan Aug. 6.
Photos courtesy of the U.S. Navy
About 150 people turned out at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport at 12:55 p.m. for the arrival of the charter plane returning Null to his hometown, among which were nearly 80 members of the Patriot Guard Riders on hand to provide an escort to Sunset Funeral Home in south Parkersburg.
Among the first to arrive at the airport Friday afternoon were friends of the Null family, including Ron Sury of Parkersburg and Jim English of Belpre, both Air Force veterans themselves, who brought their motorcycles to join the other riders in the motorcade.
Sury said Friday's ceremony was the first such event he had the opportunity to participate in and it had special significance due to his relationship with the family.
"I'm just a veteran - a disabled vet - myself and I'm just out here to show my respects," English said.
Steven Truax of Vienna brought his family to the airport to watch the ceremony and "to support a local hero coming home. He gave his most," he said.
The crowd at the airport's main terminal remained quiet as the casket was unloaded from the charter plane and transferred by a U.S. Navy Honor Guard to a waiting hearse, which drove out the gate and along a flag line of Patriot Guard Riders.
The motorcade left the airport with half the riders preceding it and family vehicles and the other half following, along with a police escort, to south Parkersburg.
Buddy Palla of Charleston, assistant state captain south of the West Virginia Patriot Guard, was among those helping organize Friday's escort.
"We are here to escort Chief Null to the funeral home," Palla said.
He was helping organize about 80 riders who turned out Friday afternoon for the ceremony. Palla has been on more than 130 rides in West Virginia during the last three years and said he was surprised at the turnout since arrangements weren't announced until Thursday evening.
"We did not get information until last night as to when Chief Null was coming home, so we hit the Internet, hit emails and hit the phone, and we're amazed at the turnout we have today on such short notice," Palla said.
A private memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at Parkersburg South High School, followed by a private ceremony and military funeral at Sunset Memory Gardens on Dupont Road.
The route of the motorcade on Sunday from Parkersburg South will follow Blizzard Drive and West Virginia 95 West to Sunset Memory Gardens.
Null, a 1999 graduate of Parkersburg South High School, enlisted in the United States Navy in September 2000. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan and won two Bronze Stars, including one with valor. He had been with a SEAL team since January 2009, according to his service record provided by officials.
Null is survived by his wife Tanya and three children.
Palla said the Patriot Guard will form again on Sunday at Parkersburg South to pay its respects. While the family service will be private, Palla said any members of the public who want to join the Patriot Guard at the school will be welcome.
Tracy Yomans of Vienna is West Virginia Patriot Guard District 3 captain and served Friday as the ride captain. He said it was an honor to be present Friday for the ceremony.
"We try to make every funeral, every welcome home, every send-off mission," he said.
In a proclamation issued Friday, the Wood County Commission expressed its sorrow to the family of Null.
"The community grieves the loss of one of our own who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country. There are no words that can possibly provide solace to the family to ease their pain and suffering. Let it be known, the Wood County Commission and the whole of the county hopes and prays that the family and friends of Nick Null find some small measure of support knowing that our entire community sends its prayers and gratitude for his service. We also share those same sentiments for all who sacrificed for our country and continue to serve in harm's way," the proclamation stated.
The Governor's Office has ordered all flags to be lowered to half-staff from dawn to dusk on Sunday in honor of Null.