When the time came for a U.S. Marine veteran’s dog to cross the rainbow bridge, hundreds of people from their hometown gathered to give him a hero’s farewell.
On July 26, 2017, more than a hundred individuals, 30 Jeeps, and about 30 motorcycles of the Patriot Guard Riders rallied to honor Cena, a four-legged Marine veteran who served three tours in Afghanistan as a bomb-sniffing dog.
The 10-year-old black Labrador was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, and his owner and first handler Lance Cpl. Jeffrey DeYoung wanted to send him off the best way possible.
Cena and DeYoung served together for six months in 2009 and 2010 while on a stint in Afghanistan. They were separated without a chance to say farewell, but DeYoung adopted the military dog in 2014 when the latter retired following a hip injury. They’ve lived together since then in Muskegon, Michigan.
“My whole adult life I’ve had Cena. When I was 19 overseas learning how to be responsible, I had Cena. And now I’m 27 and I’m having to say goodbye to one of the biggest pieces of my life,” DeYoung said in an interview with NBC’s Nightly News.
“This dog saved my life. I trust him more than I trust most human beings.”
The soldier carried Cena across rivers during their deployment, and the dog kept him warm during cold nights in the desert. DeYoung threw his body over Cena’s while the Taliban heavily fired at them.
And when DeYoung lost seven friends within three weeks and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, Cena was there to comfort him, keeping him from taking his own life.
When DeYoung sent a call out for Cena to take a last ride in a topless Jeep Wrangler, hundreds of people in their community showed up to celebrate the dog’s life. The attendees went on a police-escorted ride with the pair.
DeYoung donned his blue dress uniform for the event held at the USS LST 393 Museum. Cena also wore a homemade one provided by a local business in their hometown.
The dog was laid in a blue cloth wagon near a Jeep Liberty, and everyone who wished to meet and pet him was allowed to.
He was later pulled over to a Wrangler emblazoned with the words “Cancer Response Team.” A family photo was taken, and they said their tearful goodbyes to the Marine.
Other well-wishers who attended the ceremony included the Michigan State Police, Muskegon City Police, Muskegon County Sheriff’s Office, Muskegon Fire Department, the U.S. Marine Corps League, and officers from several other departments. A canine officer named Rex was also in attendance.
“Lord, it is with heavy hearts that we are sending another Marine to you today,” Chaplain Wesley Spyke of Muskegon County Veteran Affairs said in prayer during the ceremony.
DeYoung carried Cena out of his wagon and carefully put him in the backseat of the Wrangler. Its back window was draped with an American flag, and the Marine veteran sat next to his canine best friend.
After a short ride, the convoy returned to the museum. DeYoung and Cena boarded the ship, and “Taps” was played in his honor. Cena was put to sleep by a veterinarian around 6 p.m. and was carried off in a flag-draped coffin.
It’s the small things that DeYoung would miss most about Cena.
“The goofy look he gets on his face when you open a potato chip bag. Whenever I grab his vest off the peg and he gets up and he says, ‘Where we going today?’ “Just him, it’s gonna be tough,” he said.
The Marine veteran said the hero’s farewell was exactly what Cena deserved.
“He can see it and he can feel it … these dogs, they go out every day and they bring people back every day,” he said. “He’s not just a dog, he’s family and he’s a Marine just the same.”
It has been four years, but we still want to thank Cena for his loyalty and service. The dog has bravely fulfilled his mission in this world, and it brings us comfort knowing that during his final hours, his family and community made him feel so loved.
Watch the video below to witness Cena’s emotional send off.
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