The Record

Va. Tech cadets help bury La Porte
Thursday, April 26, 2007


Cadets marching Wednesday from the Virginia Tech campus to Westview Cemetery in Blacksburg, Va., for the burial of Matthew La Porte.

A whistle silenced the 700 cadets. Their backs snapped upright. Hundreds of black boots clicked in unison.

They stared straight ahead, expressionless.

"Companies! Atten-tion!"

The leaders of each company sounded out their reports. All here. All accounted for. All except one.

"March, cadets! March for our fallen brother!"

Row by row, the cadets pivoted to their right and marched away from the upper quad at Virginia Tech University and toward Westview Cemetery in Blacksburg, Va. There, they buried their brother, 20-year-old Matthew La Porte of Dumont, with full military honors, nine days after a gunman killed him and 31 others.

For La Porte's family, it was the final leg in a circular journey of mourning, from the Virginia Tech campus to a New Jersey wake, and back to Blacksburg for burial.

"This means a great deal to us," said Cadet Chang Ahn, 22. "He was one of us, a corps member, a brother. It means a lot when one of us falls."

The procession began in the sun-drenched upper quad, where La Porte's fellow U.S. Air Force Corps of Cadets formed perfect rows of blue and white uniforms.

The color guard stood - flags raised - in front of La Porte's dorm, Brodie Hall. To their left stood Norris Hall, the stately stone building where La Porte was killed during French class. It was surrounded by a green fence and yellow police tape that read "Crime Scene - Do Not Cross."

The cadets marched toward the cemetery in rows of four, stopping Main Street traffic for nearly 10 minutes as they crossed. They swelled over a hilly country lane, their white hats breaking like small waves. All the while, the drummers in the Highty Tighties - the cadet marching band - kept perfect time.

No other music accompanied the drums during the 25-minute procession to the cemetery, next to a Catholic church, St. Mary's.

There, La Porte's family and friends were worshiping at a Mass in his honor. Earlier this week, they held a hometown wake in Dumont and a service at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Haworth.

As the military procession entered the cemetery, only a single bass drum played. When the cadets reached the gravesite, a silver vault waited for the casket.

A drum major blew his whistle eight times, and the cadets stopped marching and turned to face the grave. They stood still for 30 minutes, until another procession joined them. White-robed priests and seminarians from St. Mary's led mourners from the church to the grave. Six cadets acted as pallbearers, carrying La Porte's flag-draped casket to the vault. The priest gave a brief reading and anointed the casket with holy water.

A cadet leader called for a salute, and hundreds of white-gloved hands snapped to white hat brims. They stood like that for five minutes, as rifles shot three times and two bugles played a slow, warbling taps.

The pallbearers folded their flag and gave it to La Porte's family. Then the cadets received their final order.

"Return to upper quad." 

They turned and walked out of the cemetery in perfect formation. A single snare drum played a somber march.

Tap. Tap. Drumroll, tap. 

After they stepped out of the cemetery, the Highty Tighties started to play. Horns and clarinets blasted a rousing tune, easy to hear for several minutes after the last cadet faded from view.

La Porte would have liked it, his friend Matt Jackson, 22, said later.

"It was the Highty Tighties in their element, the parade," he said. "It was for him."