Crowds lined a street in Olathe on Monday morning out of respect.
Respect for the military. Respect for a soldier’s family.
But most of all, respect for Cale C. Miller, a 23-year-old private first class in the U.S. Army who died from injuries suffered in a combat mission in Afghanistan on May 24.
Many didn’t know him. Still, grandfathers and grandmothers, fathers and mothers, teenagers and children crowded 151st Street to greet him as one of their own — a local hero who gave his life in the fight for freedom.
Kristi and Glenn Sell of Olathe brought their children — Brenden, 18, Emma, 12, and Kacey, 2 — to show their support for Miller and his family.
“It is important to just remember the fact that we have this freedom and this right to come out here and do this because of what this man gave his life for,” Glenn Sell said. “It’s the ultimate sacrifice and it deserves the ultimate respect.”
Brenden Sell, who is considering becoming a Marine, said sacrifices like Miller’s allow for the freedoms we all enjoy.
“One of the biggest honors is that someone gave his life for me so I could be here,” he said. “I should show my respect to him because he gave his life for me.”
Miller was the second Johnson County soldier to die in Afghanistan in recent weeks. U.S. Army Sgt. Mike Knapp, 28, of Overland Park, was killed May 18, just days before he was to return home for a two-week leave.
Miller’s body arrived at New Century AirCenter in Gardner about 9 a.m. Monday. A procession that included family members, the Patriot Guard, the Olathe police and fire departments, military officials and other law enforcement and medical agencies escorted his body to the Penwell-Gabel Funeral Home at 14275 Black Bob Road in Olathe.
As a tribute, organizers asked members of the community to line 151st Street between Lone Elm and Black Bob roads to support his family.
They showed up wearing the patriotic colors of red, white and blue and waving American flags. Many held signs reading “Community 4 Cale.”
“He’s a hometown boy who died in the line of duty,” said Brock Schumaker of Olathe, who was there with his 12-year-old daughter, Madeline Prendergast. “You got to respect them for what they do.”
Miller, an Olathe native, graduated in 2007 from Olathe Northwest High School, where he was a member of the football and track and field teams. He also played trumpet in the marching and jazz bands.
In February 2011, he joined the Army, where he was a member of Bravo Company, 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, stationed out of Fort Lewis, Wash.
He suffered the fatal injuries when the Stryker vehicle he was driving was struck by an improvised explosive device.
“He sacrificed so much to go to Afghanistan for our freedom,” said Betsy Adams of Olathe, who waited for the procession with her 7-year-old daughter, Brooke.
“I’m thinking about his parents today and how hopefully it will be of some comfort for them to know how many people care about their son.”
Twins Courtney and Trisha Jenkins, 17, of Shawnee, saw on the “Community4Cale” Facebook page that the community was being urged to line the street.
“It said that they were going to have a huge outbreak of people, and we thought we would try to make it bigger just to kind of show we all respect him and what he did for us,” Courtney said.
The two 17-year-olds are considering medical careers in the Air Force.
Among the tributes were about 30 Ford Mustangs in Olathe South High School’s parking lot.
“It was a request from his family,” said Cheryl Younger of Overland Park, vice president of the Mustang Club of Greater Kansas City. “Cale was an avid Mustang lover, so they had reached out to us to see if we could bring out the Mustangs in honor of him.”
It was a way to welcome him home.
“Personally, I have a son-in-law who just left for Afghanistan last week,” Younger said. “So hearing about the two soldiers who have recently lost their lives hits pretty close.”
As the rumble of police motorcycle escorts neared, a hush enveloped the crowd. Many stood in silence holding signs and flags waving in the slight breeze. Former military members saluted as the hearse passed, followed by family and then the Patriot Guard on their motorcycles.
A nearby yellow Mustang bore a written message:
“At Ease Soldier. RIP Cale C. Miller.”