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Slain Marine Centanni's remains returned home

April 2, 2010 6:51:59 PM PDT
A fallen Marine returned home to Orange County Friday in a hero's welcome for one of two Orange County Marines killed together in Afghanistan last week. Rick Centanni will be laid to rest just after what would have been his 20th birthday. It was a somber welcome home Friday for a fallen hero.

"It is basically a family member that is down and needs our help," said Santa Ana Police Commander Ruben Ibarra.

Hundreds gather at Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base to honor U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Rick Centanni as his parents John and Sarah made the long walk to their 19-year-old son's casket.

"Heartbreak watching your son come home in a casket when you hugged him and kissed him goodbye as he left and hoping you'd see him again the same way," said Yvette Gutierrez, who was present to honor Centanni. "I can't imagine greeting him in a casket."

The Yorba Linda resident was killed in Afghanistan last week by an improvised explosive device that also claimed the life of 45-year-old Marine Sergeant Major Robert Cottle, also from Yorba Linda.

Centanni's family chose not to speak at the ceremony but in the past, his father, a sergeant with the Santa Ana Police Department, called his son his best friend.

"I was blessed. He was a great young man. Everybody loved him," said Jon Centanni. "Physically he may be gone, but he's here, and he will always be here. He's a representative of the heroes we have in this country."

"Rick has always been a great kid. You know, I still think of him right now and his baby face," said Ibarra.

Rick Centanni played football for Esperanza High School in 2007. He entered the military right after graduating in 2008. He always wanted to be a Marine.

"He was just enthusiastic about joining the Marines, and really serving his country," said Ibarra.

"As parents, they could be very proud of their son and he followed his heart," said La Habra resident Susan Knight.

It was a hero's mission witnessed by hundreds of law enforcement personnel and hundreds of others who are just now getting to know the young Marine.

"It's been a very sad time but at the same time it has been a celebration of Rick's life," said Ibarra.

Friday afternoon, a message from Centanni's father said he felt very honored to see the support, the people lining the streets from the base all the way to the funeral home in Fullerton. He said that's what this country is really all about.

Rick's funeral is scheduled for Tuesday morning in Yorba Linda. The memorial service is open to the public.

Marine Sergeant Major Robert Cottle's remains are expected to arrive at the Los Alamitos base on Monday morning, and the ceremony at the base will be open to the public.