LCpl Roger Hager
Fallen Marine returns home as hero
He was a Marine, a son, a brother and a friend.
Now, and after giving his all for the country he swore to serve, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Roger Hager has come home a fallen hero.
Hager, who graduated early from Western Alamance High School in February 2008 and joined the Marines shortly after, was one of two Marines who died July 8 in Afghanistan when the Humvee he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device. He was 20.
Escorted by his older brother, 22-year-old Jeremy Scott Hager, also a Marine, his remains arrived at the Burlington-Alamance Airport Tuesday at around 10 a.m.
Carrying American flags, members of the Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles lined the entrance of the airport as members of Hager's family arrived prior to the small plane landing. They later led the funeral procession to Lowe Funeral Home on South Church Street, where a public visitation was held Tuesday evening.
Members of the local Lance Cpl. Alan D. Lam Detachment #1209 also came to the airport to pay their respects for one of their own.
"We are here to show our honor and respect for our fallen soldiers, airmen, seamen, Marines and for their families who sacrificed their husbands, fathers, daughters, sons," said Ron "Cowboy" Iniguez, state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders.
"I think it is important that the whole country knows the sacrifices that these young men and women are making to ensure not only our freedoms but the freedoms of oppressed people around the world," he added.
As members of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve carried the casket from the plane to the hearse, members of Hager's family mourned quietly a few feet away.
"It can't be him," his devastated mother, Elaine Farren, said later as her husband, Donald Farren, and younger daughter, Faith Strang, held her so she wouldn't fall.
Before the funeral service, Farren said she wanted to see her son to make sure it was him. She said that though she knew it was going to be hard, she still wanted to see him one last time.
Hager's commander in Afghanistan, Capt. Albert Flores Jr., who was riding in the Humvee behind Hager's at the time of the explosion, told her she would probably not be able to recognize him.
"He was badly wounded," the Marine told a teary-eyed Farren during a recent phone conversation.
Flores said he was able to recognize him by his name tapes and because he knew Hager. He told Farren her son died immediately. He also told her Hager was loved by those whom he served with overseas and that he was being honored for his service.
U.S. Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ron Polidora, whose office will be in charge of providing full military honors during Hager's funeral, said service men and women who die in the line of duty should be honored since they have made the ultimate sacrifice.
"I think there are too many people who don't realize what that means," he said. "This young Marine, 20 years old, made the ultimate sacrifice for this country to defend our freedom."
PRIOR TO HIS deployment to Afghanistan, Hager was stationed at Camp Lejeune and was attached to the Company A, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.
While this community will mourn him as a hero, his family will mourn him as a son, brother and grandson.
"He was just a good kid," said Hager's aunt, Theresa Hebert. "He'd do anything for anybody. If you needed him, he was there to help you."
A person of few words who kept to himself and loved playing computer games and fishing, Hager had a special connection with young people, his family said. His mother worked with children with disabilities and, many times, he spent time with her clients.
"He was wonderful with my son," Karen Smith, 35, of Burlington, said.
Smith said her son, 19-year-old Dustin Wiles, has multiple disabilities and Hager was always gentle and kind with him. And though he was reserved, Hager was "a good friend if you needed him," she said.
Based on what she observed, she said Hager was very close to his family, specially his grandfather, Oscar Frederick Hebert Sr., who died last year.
"I just remember how good a caregiver with his grandfather he was," she said.
Farren said she's a known traveler who settled in North Carolina five years ago. She said she wanted her children to know their North Carolina family, which included Hebert, who moved in with her. She said Hager helped her take care of her dad during the last years of his life. She credits Hager's decision to join the Marines to him and Hager's older brother.
Like other members of the armed forces, Hager was probably aware of the inherent risks involved in his job as a Marine. He seemed to have been at peace with the idea of death even before he joined.
"Death tis a gift not a curse," he wrote in a poem 5 1/2 years ago. "For I have no fear but memories … The last thing I say to thee before I die, don't fear death, hope for it."
Farren said her son liked to write about things like death, happiness and solitude but he was not a sad kid. With her, he was always goofy and funny.
For her, he will always be the boy who was very much into dragons and magical things, the boy who, when he was about 10, used all the money he had saved from selling newspapers to buy a full collection of gold dragons. The toys now fill Farren's living room in her Gibsonville home.
The thought of going on with her life without her son is almost unbearable. But, as her stepmother, Pat Ducas, reminded her Tuesday shortly after receiving the casket with Hager's remains, she is not alone.
"You'll be strong," Ducas whispered in Farren's ear as the women embraced amidst sobs. "You have two more children to live for."
Both her remaining children are in the military. Jeremy Hager is scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan in the coming months, Farren said. Faith Strang has completed basic training in the U.S. Army Reserves. She is scheduled to start her advance training in the next couple of weeks.
A funeral service for Hager will be held at Lowe Funeral Home, 2205 S. Church St., Burlington, at 2 p.m. Wednesday followed by a committal service at Gibsonville City Cemetery.
Friends of the family are encouraging residents who want to show their respects to line up with flags along South Church Street from the funeral home to Springwood Avenue starting at around 2:45 p.m.