MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
A solemn gathering of Marines, sailors, friends and families of 1st Tank Battalion paid their final respects to one of their own with a memorial service at the Combat Center’s Catholic Chapel Sept. 18.
Pfc. Ernie J. Villarreal, 27, infantry weapons repairman and an El Paso, Texas, native, died Sept. 16 at Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital. He is survived by his wife, Wendy, and his three children, Haley, Maverick and Makayla.
At the front of the church was a memorial display with Villarreal’s rifle, boots, helmet and dog tags. A framed photograph of Villarreal was also placed at the front of the chapel.
The service began with Navy Lt. Matthew Prince, 1st Tanks’ chaplain, reading the invocation and responsive reading of Psalm 23. He also spoke about how Villarreal will continue to encourage the Marines and sailors who knew him.
“Those Marines of the past, including Ernie, directly inspire each and every one of us,” said Prince. “We remember who they were and how they were, and we strive to become better because of them.”
Tears ran down the faces of Villarreal’s friends and family as Staff Sgt. Joel Daniel, Company B gunnery sergeant, Headquarters Battalion, played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. The music echoed through the chapel.
As the music faded away, Lt. Col. Thomas Gordon, battalion commander, 1st Tanks, spoke to the congregation about Villarreal’s life and his family.
“Each of us, in our own words and thoughts, are aware of the enormity of Ernie’s life and death,” said Gordon. “We can’t take away the pain and trials but we can celebrate Ernie’s life.”
Gordon continued to speak about how Villarreal constantly looked out for his fellow Marines, regardless of their rank. He opened his house to the Marines and sailors of 1st Tanks if they wanted to do laundry or just relax and watch football.
“I remember waking up at Ernie’s house and his entire living room floor would be covered by sleeping Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Edward Ramirez, weapons repairman, 1st Tanks.
Close friends of Villarreal were also asked to speak on behalf of his life and how he positively affected those who knew him.
“I feel bad for the people who will never have the privilege of meeting him,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle Jackson, an infantry weapons repairer with Headquarters and Service Company. “He had the ability to talk to you and make all your problems and pains go away.
“We need more people like Ernie in this world,” continued Jackson. Following the last speech, taps was played and everyone was given an opportunity to approach Villarreal’s memorial stand for one last goodbye.
After the memorial service, 20 Marines traveled to El Paso for Villarreal’s funeral and to support the family he left behind.