Along every overpass from San Jose to Fresno, men and women in uniform stood at attention as the casket carrying Cpl. Farrell Gilliam passed beneath.
An honorary motorcade -- made up of firefighters, cops, sheriff deputies, California Highway Patrol and the Patriot Guard Riders motorcycle group -- accompanied the 25-year-old's body Friday to a Fresno funeral home.
It was a hero's tribute for a Marine who fought for his country during two deployments to Afghanistan, where he lost both legs from an explosive device's blast on Jan. 5, 2011.
"To make the hardest day of our lives that beautiful ... I wish he could have seen it," friend Natasha Martinez said Saturday of the motorcade. "We are very grateful for yesterday." Cpl. Gilliam's body was flown from Texas, where he had been continuing his rehabilitation, to San Jose's airport. His funeral will be Tuesday in Fresno.
Because of the extent of his injuries, doctors said Cpl. Gilliam had a "one in 10 million chance" of surviving, family said. But he was strong. Since the blast, he underwent over 30 surgeries; doctors nicknamed him the "miracle child."
His unexpected death on Jan. 9, associated with his combat injuries, devastated his family.
Cpl. Gilliam was "fiercely independent" and positive to the end, family said: a young man who insisted on hoisting himself in and out of his big pickup and driving it using special hand controls. He'd often make cross-country treks from San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas, where he lived for over two years as an active-duty Marine undergoing rehabilitation, to visit family in Fresno.
On the outside, Cpl. Gilliam seemed "stoic" -- a quiet, guarded young man who only spoke when it counted, his older brother, Daniel Lorente said Saturday.
But under his surface, there was a warm light shining. Funny, giving and affectionate, he often ended conversations with family by saying, "I love you."
"The pure soul is masked behind this great warrior Marine," Lorente said. "You don't always get to see all of it, but we know it, we know it's still there."
Cpl. Gilliam was also an intellectual, they said: an inquisitive bookworm who "thirsted for knowledge," who loved to talk about religion, politics and foods that cause cancer, and who was planning to enroll as an English major at Arizona State University.
He grew up in Chico and later Ridgecrest, where he lived with his dad, and wanted to be a Marine since the fourth grade, his family said.
To honor his memory, his family hopes more people will support veterans and their long-term needs.
"The war doesn't stop just because they come home, the war is not over for them," said his mom Lisa Gilliam of Fresno. "It still rages on in their hearts and their heads and physical bodies. The sooner everybody realizes that, the better chances these veterans are going to have for survival."
Cpl. Farrell Ashton Gilliam
Born: Sept. 26, 1988
Died: Jan. 9, 2014
Service: 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 21, at Temple Beth Israel, 6622 N. Maroa Ave., followed by full-military honors graveside service at Beth Israel Cemetery.
Survivors: Mother Lisa Gilliam of Fresno, father Michael Gilliam of Ridgecrest, brother Daniel Lorente of Palo Alto, sisters Erin and Sarah Gilliam of Fresno, and grandmother Theresa Stevens of Santa Monica.
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