MEDINA – Sgt. Shaina B. Schmigel came home for the final time Monday.
A motorcade escorted a hearse carrying her coffin through Medina as hundreds lined Main Street to bid farewell to the Army paratrooper who died May 31 during a training accident at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Schmigel, 21, was originally from Batavia but moved to Medina as a freshman in high school and joined the Army after graduating from Medina High School in 2010.
She was participating in an airborne parachute exercise when she died.
Soon after the news of her death, several local veterans organizations started to spread the word. Plans for the motorcade began late last week. The outpouring of support, given the short notice, left local veterans impressed and touched.
“This says the community wants to come out and support and respect its veterans,” said Jim Freas, quartermaster for the Medina VFW. “This is a volunteer military, not a drafted military, so in my opinion everyone that serves is a hero.”
Larry Montello, commander of Medina’s Butts-Clark American Legion, praised the work of the veterans who helped organize the gathering on such short notice. He noted how every Legion post in the county was represented, showing how they all work together for one of their fallen.
A number of local residents agreed. Debbie Tompkins, of Medina, called the procession “amazing” and said it was an example of just how closely knit the small community is.
“This is awesome,” she said of the crowd. “It shows how proud we are of her, and that she will always be remembered for her sacrifice.”
Pat Rich, also of Medina, said she only recently developed a deeper respect for paratroopers after her children sat her down to watch the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” She had never seen it.
“Watching what they went through, what they go through, it’s amazing to me what they do, and I felt the least I could do was come pay my respects,” Rich said.
Bryan DeGraw recently moved to the area, and he said seeing the turnout left him in awe.
“It makes you appreciate a small town like this, and it makes you excited to be a part of it as a new resident,” DeGraw said.
Two of Schmigel’s aunts, Judy Gilbert of Alabama and Cheryl McConnell of Medina, were also part of the Main Street crowd. They praised the community for its togetherness.
“This whole area is patriotic, and we saw that with all the flags flying today,” Gilbert said.
Remembering their niece, Gilbert called Schmigel “one of a kind” and said she was a “happy young woman who always had a smile on her face and a joke on her tongue.”
McConnell mentioned how Schmigel had re-enlisted for four more years last January and was preparing for a tour of duty in Italy. “She was really looking forward to that,” McConnell said.
The women said that such an outpouring of community support was similar to what was done for Sgt. Trevor Cook, a Marine, in July 2011. He died in a helicopter accident at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
“This shows that whether active duty or reserves, even in peace time, it’s a dangerous job,” said Steven Goodrich, commander of the Lyndonville American Legion Houseman-Tanner Post 1603. “Showing our appreciation to the family is the least we can do.”
Among those paying their respects Monday evening was a just-retired veteran. Wearing an array of ribbons on his chest, he said he was at Fort Bragg when the accident happened. Identifying himself only as retired Master Sgt. McKinney, he said Schmigel’s death was like a death in the family despite the size of the military base.
“You need to understand that Fort Bragg is a huge base, with about 40,000 soldiers,” he explained, “but any time a fellow soldier dies, it’s hard on us because we’re all like a family, like brothers and sisters even if we may not really know each other.
He continued, “What’s more difficult is that it was an accident during training for a mission to jump into hostile territory.”