Bikers for Christ were there. The Patriot Guard Riders were there. Oregon State University ROTC, supporters from the Eugene, Portland, Southern California, Washington and the University of Oregon were there.
Even a few members from the hackers’ group Anonymous showed up.
At least 4,000 people lined SW 26th Street in Corvallis, in front of and across from Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center, to show their respect to a U.S. Army Ranger.
Pfc. Cody Patterson, a Philomath High School graduate, was one of four soldiers killed on Oct. 6 in Afghanistan.
Supporters flocked to the area to support the Patterson family and block out the picketers from the Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial church based in Topeka, Kan. The church announced Thursday that their members were going to picket the Patterson memorial service.
It is still unconfirmed if WBC members were at the Patterson memorial service.
The WBC’s attorney, Jonathan Phelps, said there would be at least five WBC members in attendance, during a phone interview on Friday.
Oregon State Police Lt. Steve Mitchell would not elaborate if Westboro Baptist members were ever in Corvallis.
The turnout in support for the Pattersons was “absolutely breathtaking,” said Bill Vaughan, the district captain for the Patriot Guard Riders.
Riders will only show up to services with the family’s approval or if the group receives an invitation. There were 200-300 bikers who came to the Patterson memorial service.
Vaughan has been riding since 2006, and he said this is the largest turnout he’s ever seen.
Brynda Vaughan accompanied Bill Vaughan to the service from their home in Eugene.
The Vaughans’ son is currently stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Their son was present when Patterson’s body was being transferred from an airplane before making its final flight back to the United States.
“It’s incredible how many people have come out,” said Lindsay Kruse, a graduate of Philomath High School.
Kruse has known Patterson since middle school. She described him as “fun” and someone who “laughed a lot.”
Oregon State University freshman Nathan Deutchman did not know Patterson personally. But because Deutchman comes from a military family, he said, “In a way, I feel like I knew Cody.”
“I thank Cody for his service,” Deutchman said.
The group that brought more than 4,000 people together
The United States represents homosexuality and abortion, and so do its soldiers, according Phelps.
It’s this perception of the United States, its soldiers and the war that fuels the WBC and its members to picket soldiers’ funerals.
“The perfect place to preach the gospel is right outside that funeral,” Phelps said in a phone interview on Friday.
Phelps is the fourth son of Fred Phelps, disbarred lawyer and the Baptist minister at the head of the WBC.
The church has been picketing around the United States since 1991. Active members fly out from Kansas using frequent flier miles the organization has built up throughout the last 21 years.
“We’re serious as cancer about this,” Jonathan Phelps said.
The United Kingdom banned the group from entering in 2009, making international news.
The WBC uses its thousands of dollars from winning various civil rights cases, filed in several states, to fund its members’ travel expenses.
“All of us have had to become experts on the First Amendment,” Jonathan Phelps said. “This is a voluntary army.”
Jonathan Phelps said the First Amendment exists to protect the WBC’s right to protest “peacefully.”
United against the WBC
“It’s just disgusting,” said Kruse when asked her thoughts on the WBC.
When it seemed more and more likely the WBC was not going to show, some thought the large crowd opposing them scared the members back to Kansas.
“They’re like little kids — when they’re scared they run away,” Deutchman said.
Despite their original purpose in coming to Corvallis — to negate the WBC protest — many people were moved by the overwhelming support for the Patterson family.
“I’m proud of Corvallis,” said OSU employee Shelley Hansen. “It’s nice to see so many people show up (and show their support).”
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