More than a thousand people gathered in the bleachers at Corunna High School for fallen soldier Private First Class Shane Cantu's funeral Monday evening. It was the first step in closure for Cantu's family and the Corunna community.
"Emotions are high. I have emotions. Anyone that doesn't, they got a stronger heart than I do," said Gary Higgins, a Curunna resident and member of the Patriot Guard. "But we're here because we respect and honor a fallen comrad, plain and simple."
The Patriot Guard escorted the Cantu family to the field and lined the track in honor of 20-year-old Cantu, who died serving in Afghanistan August 28. At his funeral he was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star that were presented to his mother.
"Shane served our country, and I cannot even imagine how the family feels," said Tracy Mackie, a good friend of Cantu's cousin. "My heart goes out to the whole family."
The funeral program read: "Shane Cantu had a heart that cared completely, and a smile that brought such pleasure. He shared a love that brought joy beyond measure and will be forever remembered as one of life's great treasures."
It's clear he'll also be remembered for being a great leader both on the battlefield and the football field.
"I think of him walking through the halls in his football jersey and Varsity jacket, those were two things he was very proud of," said Nikki Norris, Corunna Athletic Director. "He always had a smile on his face, and he was always offering to help anyone that needed to be helped."
Cantu was described as a giver and a hero. During the service, his mom read a letter from his platoon leader who said they're not supposed to have favorites, but Shane was a special soldier.
"He's a front line soldier," Higgins said. "I've been there, and done that. Proud of you, Shane, very proud of you."
Cantu would have turned 21 next month. He was less than a month into his first tour in Afghanistan.
A scholarship fund has been created in his name.