Volunteers prepare patriotic homecoming display for St. Louis soldier killed in training accident
2023/07/13

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - More than two weeks after a deadly training accident near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, a local soldier killed in a helicopter crash is being laid to rest in St. Louis.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Zachary Esparza, 36, of the 101st Airborne Division, died in the crash that the U.S. Army said claimed the lives of eight other soldiers. According to his obituary, Esparza was born and raised in St. Louis before graduating from Bayless High School in 2005. He then attended Southeast Missouri State before enlisting in the Army in 2010, when he was 24.

According to the U.S. Army, two HH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters crashed near Fort Campbell on March 29, killing all nine soldiers aboard the two aircraft.

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The crash occurred in Trigg County, Kentucky, about 30 miles northwest of the Army post that is home to the 101st Airborne Division.

On Saturday, dozens of volunteers helped local non-profit The Flagman's Mission Continues, an organization that travels the Midwest to bring hundreds of American flags to the funerals of first responders and military members.

"It turns into a blur after a while, which we all understand if we've grieved, but the one thing we find that the family always remembers is that their community came together to set up flags, and they remember the flags," said Jeff Hastings, President of The Flagman's Mission Continues.

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Volunteers spent several hours installing a few hundred flags, a small token of gratitude to show their appreciation, some said.

"It's something I want to do because it makes me feel better as a human being, said Charles Robinson. "Because the people who have served and sacrificed deserve the recognition for what they've done and what has happened."

Several teens and children took part in the effort, an important message for grandparents like Ann Ojile.

"I wanted to explain to Bo [my grandson] what volunteering is, and why it's important to volunteer for people who put their lives on the line for us and I think he kind of got it, I think he understood," she said.

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Esparza's body is scheduled to return to St. Louis on Saturday night at 6 p.m. and will be escorted by the Patriot Guard and other organizations to Hoffmeister South County Chapel in South County. The visitation will take place on Sunday, April 16, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.

On Monday, funeral services will be held at Crosspoint Church before Esparza is laid to rest at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery with full military honors.

Hastings needs volunteers to help dissemble the flags on Monday at 4 p.m. at Hoffmeister South County Chapel. 

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