The life and heroism of fallen hero PFC Joel Ramirez was memorialized Sunday during a special service with full military honors.

Ramirez, a class of 2007 Waxahachie High School graduate, was killed in the line of duty April 16 in Afghanistan. Several thousand people turned out in tribute, many bearing placards and U.S. flags while standing vigil outside of the Waxahachie Civic Center while just as many attended the bilingual service inside.

Ramirez leaves behind his parents, Feliciano “Chano” and Irma Ramirez, both support staff members at Waxahachie High School; his younger siblings, Daniel, Maria and Christie; and a 2-year-old daughter, Kaylee Marie.

He also leaves an exemplary legacy of heroism, as noted by those speaking at his service.

On behalf of the U.S. Government, Brigadier Gen. Thomas A. Vandal brought words of condolence to the grieving family.

“Let me express our deepest sympathies,” the general said. “I am so sorry for your loss … . Words are seemingly inadequate to convey at times like these.”

For his service in the fight against terrorism and oppression and in defense of the freedoms found in the United States, Ramirez “deserves our eternal gratitude,” Vandal said, describing the 22-year-old as an “exceptional soldier, a superb leader and a man of exceptional character.”

Ramirez had served in a most challenging job with the military, that of an infantryman, the general said, saying, “He was a brave man in a brave band of brothers. (His fellow soldiers) knew him as a dedicated soldier driven to excellence in every mission. … (He) was the kind of soldier we all aspire to be. He is a true American hero and all of us are proud to have been brothers in arms with him.”

A posthumous awarding of medals was done, with his parents receiving on behalf of their son Ramirez’s Purple Heart, the Bronze Star Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the NATO Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge.

“He will forever be remembered for his actions,” Vandal said.

After the conclusion of the indoor service, the family was escorted outside, where a military honor guard removed the flag from Ramirez’s casket. The general presented the flag to Ramirez’ parents, with a second flag presented to his daughter. The honor guard then fired a three-round volley before a military trumpeter played “Taps.”

Before and during the service, patriotic songs were played and sung, including “The Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful,” with videos and photographs of Ramirez’s life also screened.

During the indoor service, Waxahachie High School students Rebecca Bousquet and Stephen Erikson spoke on behalf of the student body, and had all of its members on hand to stand and surround the room in a human chain as tribute.

That human chain was a visual representation of the students’ support for Ramirez and his family, especially his parents because of their loving interaction with students, Bousquet said.

“It is very difficult to express the effect Irma and Chano have had on our school and community,” she said, remarking on how the couple’s kind words had often helped her through a day at school. “We are here to love and support you in every way possible. … Thank you for raising a very brave man. We will always remember him and never forget.”

“I know he was an honorable man,” Erikson said, noting that the most honorable action a man can make is to give his life. “Sadly, Joel made the ultimate sacrifice for us. … I know Joel Ramirez is a hero; he has inspired all of us.”

With Ramirez’s parents at their side, the fallen hero’s siblings each spoke, as did one of his friends from the service, each relating his or her special remembrances and sorrow at their loss.

Maria said she’d always pictured a joyous reunion and recalled how her brother had assured her he’d come home: He didn’t break his promise – he was home – but it wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Saying he was a guardian angel now, she said she would always remember him.

“The impact you had on my life will last forever,” Christie said of her brother, saying his life and death would “motivate me even more to be the best I can be.”

Ramirez’s fellow soldier said the two were inseparable once they met and became friends. In meeting his friend’s family, the young man said he realized how special they were – and how Ramirez was the man he was because of his family.

“From day one, as long as I can remember, Joel was around,” Daniel said of his brother. “He was my right hand man, my role model and also my hero. I am so proud to call him my brother.”

Daniel remarked on the so-close relationship he and his brother had, and how they had competed against each other, trying to outdo one another.

“I can’t picture my life without him,” Daniel said. “I’m going to miss my brother.”

Military chaplain, Fr. Henry Drozd, recalled how, as a child in Ennis he stood and waved “to every soldier in every truck” in an Army convoy that passed through en route overseas during World War II.

“For sure, many of those soldiers I waved goodbye to that day died, if not in the invasion of Salerno, Italy, then in other places,” he said. “I never dreamt that one day I would be a priest and a chaplain … that one day I would be at the funeral for Joel Ramirez.”

Since World War I, many men from Ellis County have died in service to the country, Drozd said, saying, “All served their country and died for it. … ‘There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life.’

“ … PFC Joel Ramirez, infantryman, died in Afghanistan,” Drozd said. “In death, God stretched out his arms to embrace him (and Ramirez) reached out to touch God’s face. God said, ‘Welcome home, my son. Welcome home, soldier.’”

Contact JoAnn at joann@wninews.com.