“She served our country and she risked her life for us. We are proud of her,” said Evalyn Lizama, 15, as she and a crowd of people held a candlelight vigil near the commuter terminal of the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport from 11pm Thursday to 1:30am Friday to welcome the arrival of the remains of U.S. Army Specialist Joselyn Tara Mafnas Sablan.
Sablan passed away in her barracks room in Fort Hood, Texas on Sept. 20. Circumstances surrounding this incident are still under investigation. She was 23.
Lizama, a sophomore at Marianas High School, said that people gathered at the airport were there “for a reason—to welcome her home.” She also wants to be in the military someday, just like the late Army specialist. But Lizama said she might join the U.S. Marine Corps instead.
Sablan, the eldest of five children, was supposed to turn 24 on Oct. 13, her family said.
Her aunt, Frances Mafnas, said Sablan served in Iraq in 2010.
Sablan’s awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Army Service Ribbon, according to a statement from Fort Hood, Texas.
She entered active-duty service in October 2009 as an automated logistical specialist. She was assigned to the 565th Quartermasters Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Fort Hood, since February 2012.
Manny Mafnas, one of the uncles of the late Army specialist, said that when he heard about the news of his niece’s passing, he thought about how his sister—the mother of Joselyn Tara—would cope.
Mafnas lives in Palau and Guam, and he came to Saipan for this death in the family. During the candlelight vigil, Mafnas held a Palauan flag, saying the late U.S. Army specialist has Palauan blood.
Angel Lizama, 17, said she’s proud of the late U.S. Army specialist, her mother’s first cousin.
“She’s my aunt. I am so proud of her. She stood for us,” she told Saipan Tribune.
The family and relatives started their candlelight vigil at 11pm Thursday.
The plane carrying the remains arrived around 12:45am Friday. The late Army specialist’s immediate family waited inside the Saipan International Airport’s commuter terminal, while the rest of the crowd waited outside.
It was around 1:15am when the coffin was brought to the commuter terminal and to the waiting family members. Members of the U.S. Army draped her coffin with an American flag as part of the ritual before placing the coffin aboard a waiting hearse.
The hearse made its way out of the commuter terminal and drove past the crowd with lit candles and flags in hand.
Sablan’s death brings to 18 the number of CNMI sons and daughters serving in the U.S. military that lost their lives since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Another former U.S. Army specialist, Robert Jason Santos Deleon Guerrero, also passed away on Sept. 23 in Tennessee. Before he died, he donated seven of his organs to people needing them. His family said while he passed away, “seven others would have a second chance to live.”
Deleon Guerrero will be buried on Monday, while Sablan, on Tuesday. Both will be buried at the CNMI Veterans Cemetery in Marpi.