The blessings of heaven seemed to shine down on the funeral of Maj. Dean A. Klenda Saturday in Pilsen as a heavy, early morning fog cleared to reveal a cloudless, sunny day.
Motorcycles sprouting American flags lined the streets west and north of the church prior to the 11 a.m. funeral mass at St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church.
At least 80 members of Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and American Legion Riders from throughout central Kansas formed an avenue of flags at the entrance to the church as well as at the cemetery. Everyone who attended experienced the awesome thrill of walking down that inspiring path.
The silence was deafening as more than 400 people stood respectfully at the gravesite, some with hands over their hearts at times, during full military rites provided by McConnell Air Force Base.
The most emotional moment for many was when a formation of four fighter jets approached from the east, and one suddenly veered upward into the heavens. It made several rolls in celebration as it gradually descended, leveled out, and disappeared to the west.
“I never cry at funerals,” one man said, “but that brought tears to my eyes.”
A three-volley salute and Taps followed, after which the flag was folded and presented to Dean’s sister, Deanna. She placed her hand on the casket and bid her brother a final farewell.
Dean Klenda’s remains were buried exactly 51 years after he was killed in Vietnam and almost two years after he was found and identified.
Charles Richter traveled from Washington, D.C. to attend the funeral and serve as a pallbearer. Richter was Klenda’s fraternity brother at Kansas State University, where Klenda was enrolled in ROTC and training to be a fighter pilot.
“I got my first plane ride from Dean,” Richter said.
Gigi Gray of Abilene cried and wiped tears from her eyes at the sight of the casket as it made its appearance. The military veteran said she was a third grader and present with her father in 1973 at Maxwell Air Force Base when prisoners of war from Vietnam and many of their fallen comrades were brought home. She said that sight left a deep impression on her, and she is deeply moved every time she attends the funeral of a recovered soldier.
Mike Sechler, an American Legion rider from Hillsboro, said they had heard rumors that the Phelps family of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka might be present to disrupt mourners. He was glad they didn’t show up.
Several Wichita TV stations and The Wichita Eagle covered the funeral.
Tom Holland, the scientist who identified Klenda’s remains, attended the funeral. He said he was astounded at the finding. He has known Deanna Klenda for 24 years, and her brother’s funeral was special to him because his was the last identification he made from the Vietnam War before accepting another position.
Deanna Klenda’s grandson, Gavin Peters, said his biggest regret is that his grandparents, Albert and Pauline Klenda, did not live to see this day. Peters recounted his feelings as he went to Hawaii and escorted his uncle’s casket back home.
Deanna Klenda was overwhelmed with emotion following the ceremony.
“This day was totally a miracle,” she said. “It was awesome. God blessed me with a beautiful day. He’s home! He’s home!”