By Josh Moniz
---- — WASECA — A brave Marine that loved serving his country. A hard worker who always jumped at a chance to help. A good friend who could always make you laugh.
These were just some of the stories shared by Marines that served with Lance Cpl. Caleb Erickson following his funeral Monday in Waseca.
Erickson, 20, was killed Feb. 28 while serving in Afghanistan. His body was laid to rest in Woodville Cemetery after a service at Grace Lutheran Church. Hundreds of community members joined regional members of the Patriot Guard in lining the streets around the church with U.S. flags.
Marines from his platoon that are still stationed in Afghanistan held their own memorial last Friday at their base.
A press release produced by the platoon about the ceremony provided a poignant example of Erickson's character: On the day Erickson was killed, Cpl. Martin McNamara missed the unit's brief meal break because he was busy prepping his vehicle. When the other Marines returned, Erickson brought McNamara a large tray of food. McNamara said he had not asked for any food and had not expected to be brought anything.
Similarly, Staff Sgt. Jose Pimienta, who attended the Waseca funeral to represent Erickson's platoon, shared his memories of serving with Erickson. Pimienta made the trip despite the fact he is still recovering from knee surgery he received last Friday.
Pimienta said he clearly remembers being assigned to help find soldiers from the platoon to be sent home ahead of schedule last December. He said he asked Erickson if he was interested, but Erickson flatly refused the offer.
"He said 'I'll go back when everyone goes back.' That's the kind of guy he was. We all really wanted to go home, but he didn't want to feel like he had abandoned his fellow Marines," Pimienta said. "I still picture him every time I close my eyes."
Sgt. Allen Borum, who also attended the Waseca funeral, said he grew attached to Erickson when they both served in the same unit prior to Erickson's deployment in Afghanistan.
Borum personally volunteered to shepherd Erickson's body from the time it arrived at Dover Air Force Base last week until it reached his family.
"(Erickson's death) broke my heart pretty bad," Borum said. "Having to hand a family a flag for a Marine that had been under my charge was the hardest thing I've done in my life. I don't want to ever have to do that again. But if duty calls, I will do it again."
He said it was the first time he had to deliver the body of a Marine.
Borum, Pimienta and other Marines interviewed by The Free Press made a point of emphasizing how friendly Erickson was with everyone in the platoon.
"Some people will only have a few friends. He really was friends with the whole platoon," Borum said.
Pimienta said he learned that during the attack that killed Erickson, one of the Marines was more concerned with learning Erickson's condition than being treated for his concussion.
During lighter moments, Erickson earned the nickname "Tot" from his fellow Marines because of his ability to accurately replicate the voices of characters from the film "Napolean Dynamite."
In a statement, his fellow Marines still in Afghanistan recalled how they would give him a friendly teasing about his heavy Minnesotan accent.
"He was a model for how every man should be," said Lance Cpl. Zachary Dewar in a statement.
Marines from Erickson's platoon, including Marines that were with him during the attack, plan to visit his family and his grave when they return from deployment in late April or May.