Mari Sarabia kept a few paces behind her colleagues who knelt silently at the flat gravestones of three fallen Buchanan High graduates -- two brothers and a best friend, all killed while serving in Iraq.
She just couldn't bring herself to stand next to the graves she's visited many times before. Memories of the young men -- and the thought that it could have been her son being mourned -- kept her at a distance.
She looked on Friday morning as the other women, all Buchanan High office staff, placed tiny American flags and flower bouquets from the previous night's commencement ceremonies on the graves at Clovis Cemetery. The women have decorated the graves since 2008 as a tribute to eight Buchanan soldiers and Marines killed in war between 2004 and 2010. The men are also honored during a special memorial ceremony at graduation each year.
Two of the fallen, Marine Cpl. Jeremiah Baro and Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard, were best buddies who perished on the same day when a roadside bomb detonated in 2004. Hubbard's younger brother, Army Cpl. Nathan Hubbard, died in a helicopter crash in Iraq three years later.
For years it seemed like one tragedy came after another, Sarabia said.
Her own son graduated with Baro and Hubbard, and nearly enlisted before deciding to attend college instead.
It was a time for quiet reflection for the half dozen women, who walked quietly through grassy rows to place flowers on the headstones, many still topped with photographs of the fallen, now faded from years in the sun.
Buchanan High principal Ricci Ulrich said decorating graves with graduation bouquets is a way to honor former students' sacrifice.
"We intend to keep them in our memories, and this is just another way to pay tribute to each and every one of them," she said.
Buchanan graduates who died in service
Marine Cpl. Jeremiah Baro, 2001 graduate, died in Iraq on Nov. 4, 2004.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard, 2001 graduate, died in Iraq on Nov. 4, 2004.
Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony "Tony" Butterfield, 2005 graduate, died in Iraq on July 29, 2006.
Army Pfc. Rowan Walter, 1999 graduate, died in Iraq on Feb. 23, 2007.
Army Cpl. Nathan Hubbard, 2004 graduate, died in Iraq on Aug. 22, 2007.
Senior Airman Nicholas Eischen, 2001 graduate, died in Afghanistan on Dec. 24, 2007.
Army Staff Sgt. Brian Piercy, 2001 graduate, died in Afghanistan on July 19, 2010.
Marine Sgt. Matthew Abbate, attended Buchanan for three years, died in Afghanistan on Dec. 2, 2010.
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