On the stage at Cottonwood Church, a spotlight shone down on an Army helmet perched atop a rifle, the glow lighting the dog tags that dangled over a pair of empty boots.
Throughout the funeral service Friday, the spotlight continued to illuminate the equipment, a memorial to Sgt. Thomas Raymond MacPherson, the fallen soldier who last wore that gear.
Friends, family, military leaders and the Los Angeles County Sheriff paid tribute to Sgt. Thomas Raymond MacPherson – a Long Beach Native and Los Alamitos High School graduate – killed an Afghanistan Oct. 12.
Speakers described MacPherson, 26, as a playful young boy who grew to be a hero, who loved his wife, his young son, his family and his country.
“This is surreal. I should not be speaking at Tommy’s memorial service,” his father Troy MacPherson said to the hundreds gathered in the Cottonwood Church sanctuary. “He should be speaking at mine.”
Thomas MacPherson, 26, was killed by small arms fire in the Ghazni Province in Afghanistan as he led an assault against an enemy position, according to U.S. Army officials.
MacPherson was a team leader assigned to Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
This was his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, and he had also previously served one deployment in Iraq. He is survived by his wife Claudia and their son Brayden of Tacoma, Wash., and his parents, Troy and Diona of Long Beach.
On Thursday, .
The lobby at Cottonwood Church Friday was packed with floral arrangements of red white and blue.
Ushers handed out programs, tissues and black and yellow wristbands with the words “Sgt. Thomas MacPherson RLTW (Rangers Lead the Way).” Pastor Chris Lankford said the wristbands would serve as reminders to pray for the MacPherson family.
Many of the sanctuary seats were filled with members of MacPherson's regiment and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies – MacPherson’s father is a deputy.
As he spoke about his son’s life, Troy MacPherson’s voice broke.
Growing up, his son had loved to skateboard, body board and generally do anything outdoors, he said.
“He was truly a Southern California boy,” Troy MacPherson said.
He told how his son, who the family called Tommy, loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies as a boy and how Thomas would sometimes tease his young siblings, Jessica Lozano and Timothy MacPherson
Thomas MacPherson attended Lee Elementary, McAuliffe Elementary, Los Alamitos high school and then Cypress college for a few years, according to Troy MacPherson. In Jan. 2007, he told his dad he wanted to enlist and become an Army Ranger.
“I was shocked and scared at the same time,” Troy MacPherson said. “He can’t even keep his room clean. How does he expect to do this?”
But Thomas showed determination, watched his diet, set up a strict exercise program to prepare. He would even fill his backpack full of rocks for hikes.
“He wanted to give something back,” Troy MacPherson said. “This would be the first selfless act of many he would make, up to and including the day of his death.”
“Son, you will be missed,” Troy MacPherson added. “You will always be in our hearts and thoughts. We love you.”
Lankford, the MacPherson family’s pastor from Long Beach Alliance Church, read a letter from Thomas MacPherson's sister' Jessica Lozano who said she “wrote so that others shall not forget my big brother.”
Her letter detailed her memories of her brother, how, when she was growing up, Thomas and Timothy would make faces at her during breakfast and would pile socks and stuffed animals on her face while she slept. “Thankfully I’m a very deep sleeper," she wrote.
She wrote that Thomas would be her hero. He was the one who helped her get over the fear of the freeway when she was learning to drive.
“The last time that I saw my brother was my wedding day,” she said, adding that Thomas wore Ray-Ban sunglasses throughout the ceremony.
At first she wanted him to stop, but she said she’s now changed her mind.
“I’m so happy that he didn’t take off the Ray-Bans,” Jessica Lozano said. “That’s just my brother marching to the beat of his own drummer.”
Lankford, the pastor, thanks the community for supporting the MacPherson family.
“The family has truly been overwhelmed with your love and your graciousness at a time when they have endured the shock and the pain of the past several days,” Lankford said to the audience. “This world can crush us with tragedy, but Jesus is doing what Jesus always does. He takes broken things and heals them.”
Lt. Col Gregory Anderson, 2nd Ranger Battalion Commander, called MacPherson “a warrior" who served with honor and courage and “fought with distinction.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca asked that members of LACS and members of the military across the nation Friday “pause for a moment to pay tribute to a great man and great father.”
He also asked for a large picture of Macpherson.
“We’re going to put it in the headquarters of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,“ Baca said. “We will never forget. This nation of ours will never forget, as well."
Through tears, MacPherson's wife read a letter that she had composed for him after he died. “I am honored that you chose to spend the past nine years with me.” Claudia MacPherson said. “Our baby Brayden will grow into a boy that will be proud to call you daddy.”
MacPherson was born July 20, 1986 in Long Beach. He enlisted in the Army in May 2007 and completed basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.
After graduating from the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, he initially served as mortarman with the 75th Ranger Regiment. After three years, he was assigned to Delta Company, where he served as fire team leader.
His awards include the Bronze Star Medal of Valor, the Army Commendation Medal and the National Defense Service Medical.
He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and the Purple heart.