OTSEGO, Mich. (WOOD) - Hundreds of people lined the flag-filled streets of Otsego Thursday to pay their final respects to Mark Schoonhoven, an Army sergeant who died from wounds suffered in Afghanistan.
Schoonhoven, 38, was from Plainwell and enlisted in 2006. He was part of a unit out of Fort Carson, Colo., and arrived in Afghanistan in November 2012.
He was wounded Dec. 15 when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in Kabul, and he died Jan. 20 at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. It was his third tour in Afghanistan.
The funeral was held at St. Margaret Catholic Church in Otsego, and the funeral procession went through both Otsego and Plainwell.
About 1,800 flags were placed along the route by Larry Eckhardt, who is known as The Flag Man.
"These young men and women give their lives defending it," he told 24 Hour News 8. "To me, the least we can do is to make sure that flag is protecting them on their last trip."
For the past seven years, Eckhardt has traveled through nine states in the Midwest setting up flags and taking them down, putting 70,000 miles on his car just last year. Aside from a few donations, he finances all of it.
Sgt. Schoonhoven's funeral was Eckhardt's 100th.
"Yeah, this one here is a milestone," he said. "Unfortunately it is a sad milestone."
Eckhardt, a retired factory worker from central Illinois, never served in the military. By all accounts, he is an average guy who has taken on a larger-than-life mission.
Blaring from the speakers of his well-traveled van was "Amazing Grace."
"I am not that religious, but I am probably the most blessed man in the country."
He charges no fee for the flags and his services, and considers himself a rich man.
"You know, the payback for me is when I see the family drive by and you can tell -- even though they are in utter shock -- that it means something to them," he said.
"I would like for this to be my last funeral, but we both know it's not. So we'll just continue to do it."
Schoonhoven's survivors include his wife, Tammie, six children, his parents and a brother.
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