No one knows for sure how many people came out to honor Sky Mote Thursday evening. No invitations were sent or tickets sold. One estimate put the turnout at 3,500, but it could easily have been more.
They came to honor a fallen Marine and a family that’s touched the lives of hundreds of El Dorado Hills’ families.
The flag-waving, sign-bearing crowd gathered respectfully along El Dorado Hills Boulevard, Serrano Parkway and Silva Valley Parkway, all of which remained open to traffic with little traffic control and no caution tapes or uniformed officers telling the crowd where or how to congregate.
Yet there were no problems other than some parking difficulties.
The result was a moving tribute to Marine Staff Sgt Skylar “Sky” Mote, who was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 10.
The crowd was already gathering when El Dorado Hills Honor Guard members conducted a solemn color guard ceremony at McClellan Air Force Base. Marine pallbearers transferred the casket from a Dassault Falcon jet to a waiting hearse.
A hastily assembled procession of law enforcement vehicles and motorcycles followed the hearse and a couple limousines to the Green Valley Mortuary, exiting Highway 50 in El Dorado Hills, where the ad-hoc collection of veterans, police, firefighters, teachers, students, scout troops, bicycle clubs, plus a lot of regular folks and their families lined the streets to pay tribute to a Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The extemporaneous gathering was the result of last-minute e-mails from the Military Family Support Group and local veterans’ advocate Robert Leon, who beseeched his contact list for an “all hands” turnout.
He got one and them some, despite the fact that the exact route remained in doubt until the procession left McClellan Air Force Base.
“It’s a sad time, but it’s wonderful to see everyone coming together peacefully with no one in charge,” said El Dorado Hills resident Dimitra Moestopo. “Why can’t it be like this all the time? No arguing, no honking, complete unity. It makes me want to cry.”
Many did as the hearse bearing Mote’s body passed. Tears were also shed inside the limos, as the spectacle unfolded through the tinted glass.
Sky’s brother Carson, 16, was in a Hummer limousine behind the hearse. “Seeing all those people crying — they didn’t even know Sky, but still had all that empathy … I’ll never forget it,” he said.
The sea of roadside humanity Carson watched unfold was clustered on Silva Valley Parkway, near schools Sky attended and where his parents, Russ and Marsha, currently teach.
Cindy Minshall and her husband Denny were also in one of the limousines. Cindy is Sky’s biological mother, who now lives in Idaho, but said she had remained close to Sky, having last seen him in April.
At Green Valley Mortuary later that night, the Minshalls described the short ride from McClellan.
Despite heavy traffic the procession made good time, arriving in El Dorado Hills just after 7 p.m.
“They cleared a lane for us,” said Cindy. “All along the freeway there were people pulled over, out of their cars, saluting or putting their hand on their heart.”
“People on the other side of the freeway, going the other way, were pulled over saluting,” added Denny. “The overpasses were full of uniformed firefighters, police and regular people waving flags.”
The biggest surprise occurred when the procession exited the freeway in El Dorado Hills. “I had no idea there would be so many people out there … all the signs and flags,” said Carson, who was still grappling with the emotions of the day as the memorial service wound down.
Carson rides on the Trojan Spartan High School Mountain Bike team at Oak Ridge High School. His father Russ is a team coach. A couple dozen uniformed team members, led by Assistant Coach Mark Taylor, were on Silva Valley Road Thursday in support of the family.
Members of the Horizon Bicycle Club were also there, all the way from Elk Grove. Team leader Gordon Mason explained that the Motes have participated in Horizon’s annual 360-mile ride from Santa Cruz to Malibu, a fundraiser for the AIDS crisis in Africa.
Veterans out in force
Leon, whose e-mails triggered a turnout that would make a flashmobster jealous, served in Vietnam, as did many on the sidewalk Thursday evening, including Tore Pearson of El Dorado Hills.
“This is good, I just wish the guys I served with that didn’t come home got something similar,” said Pearson, whose wife Sunday was an El Dorado Sheriff Office Chaplain.
Another Vietnam veteran, Larry Webber, stood solemnly at the entrance to Rolling Hills School bearing a large American flag.
“It was a lot different when I came back,” he said. “There was nothing. It was like I was a stranger, so I’m glad to see all this.”
Asked why he was there he shrugged and said, “It’s the least I could do,” then produced a faded photo of his son, a Marine with at least a dozen medals hanging on the chest of his dress blues, including two bronze stars and two purple hearts earned during four tours of duty.
Many other veterans brought flags. Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Ken Cannon of Placerville chatted with Leon while holding an 18-foot pole with the scarlet Marine flag, the stars and stripes and room for a couple more.
He was there because “Sky’s coming home,” he said. “I never expected to see this many people here … I’m so glad.”
His voice broke, but composed himself and continued, “There’s still a war going on … and I worry that people are forgetting that local men and women are still going over there, and sometimes they come back like this.”
Desert Storm veteran John Linke of El Dorado Hills was also displaying a large flag. His companion Mary Saporito explained that they were both in law enforcement, as were their families.
National Guardsman Josh Meadors sat in his jeep afterward with his Air Force buddy Nick Madsen, listening to Moonshine Bandit’s “American Pride,” cranked up loud. No one asked them to turn it down.
Like many pre-teens present Thursday, Brad Walden had one of the Mote parents as a teacher. His sister had the other, according to their mother, Cindy.
Scouts past and present
Silva Valley Parkway was filled with scouts past and present Thursday night. John and Pegi Scarlett led Sky’s Pack 454 in the mid 1990s.
The current leader of pack 454, Russ Wilcox, brought an estimated 50 scouts, all of whom held their salute respectfully as the procession passed.
Many in the crowd identified themselves as military families. Adam Diesel and his fiancée Tanya Johnson drove down from Placerville to pay their respects.
Diesel’s father, Bob, is a Vietnam veteran and an architect with Anova Nexus in Placerville, working with Leon on the El Dorado Hills Veterans’ Memorial planned for Promontory Park.
Another Memorial advocate, silver star recipient Dick Grinnell was there with his grandson Nick and his son Ed, a Naval Academy graduate and Desert Storm pilot.
Sponsors are needed to complete the memorial. For more information, visit the memorial web site, www.edhvetsmemorial.org.
Sky Mote’s death was particularly poignant to Steve Pubols of Placerville. His son Kyle just completed a 12-month deployment with the Marines, returning home last week. “So I’m here to honor this young man’s sacrifice, and his family’s,” he said.
Denny Minshall was impressed by the support the family received from all facets of the military since Sky’s death. “This entire family has been buoyed by this brotherhood in ways we never imagined,” he said.
Russ Mote exited the mortuary late Thursday night exhausted and in need of sustenance. He nonetheless lingered to thank the remaining friends and family, and offered to answer questions for the Mountain Democrat, who dispatched him to his limo with orders to find a meal, which amused Sky’s brother Erick, who stuck around long enough to describe the scene on El Dorado Hills Boulevard as “awesome … really something special,” before joining his father.
With the limo waiting, Carson chased this reporter down in the parking lot to make sure the story conveyed the family appreciation for the events of the day.
“There’s no way to express the gratitude we have to everyone,” he said.