Marine Lance Cpl. Merlin "Merl" Raye Allen was just 20 when his life ended in Vietnam. Forty-six years later, he's finally back in his beloved Bayfield County of northern Wisconsin.
An enemy rocket brought down the helicopter he was in over Hue Province. His remains were not discovered until a joint U.S.-Vietnamese recovery team excavated the wreck site last year.
"Merl has never been forgotten. He has always been remembered by family and friends," his sister, Marilyn Allen Neff, told The Daily Press of Ashland for a story published Thursday.
Neff and other family members were stunned when they motored into Washburn on Wednesday, completing a trip from Minneapolis where the family received the casket holding Allen's remains. They arrived in town with an escort from the Patriot Guard Riders, a national organization of motorcycle enthusiasts who attend funeral processions to honor fallen U.S. military personnel. The streets of Washburn were lined with well-wishers, waving American flags.
"We are overwhelmed, just overwhelmed," Neff said. "Everybody has just touched our hearts all along the way. This is amazing. We love our small towns."
Her brother's remains were solemnly carried into a funeral home by a Marine honor guard, past an honor guard of Patriot Riders standing at attention in their motorcycle leathers.
One of the onlookers was Barb Weber Mohr, a classmate at Bayfield High School.
"He was cool," Mohr recalled. "He had a lot of antics, and he would kind of get into trouble once in a while, but he'd give you that grin, and he kind of melted your heart."
For the riders, who came from across the Upper Midwest, accompanying the procession was a way to pay back a debt to all those who have given their lives for America, said Edward Bergeui, of St. Paul, Minn.
"What he did for us — we have to do something for him," Bergeui said. "He gave his life for us, we owe him that respect."
Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. Friday at the Bratley Funeral Home in Washburn and will continue one hour before his funeral, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Bayfield High School gymnasium. Military honors will be held at Little Sand Bay immediately following the service. A private burial will take place on York Island.