LAWRENCE — In Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario’s picture, Betsy Rodriguez saw herself.
At 18, Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, joined the U.S. Army and had a military career that spanned 30 years. The sergeant major now lives in Florida but has been vacationing in Gloucester. When she learned Rosario, 25, was killed, Rodriguez wanted to be there for her when she finally came home.
“Seeing this young female in the military reminded me of myself,” she said.
Rodriguez was among the thousands who lined Lawrence streets on Saturday as Rosario, a fallen daughter, was returned to the city in a somber, dignified and patriotic procession.
Rosario, who is also referred to as Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, was killed by suicide bombers in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 26.
She had volunteered for deployment there and was screening women and children leaving the Middle Eastern country as the Taliban resumed control and the United States relinquished its involvement after 20 years.
A 2014 graduate of Lawrence High School, she had been a Marine for the past eight years.
With many clad in red, white and blue, crowds gathered on the sides of city streets as Rosario’s 7,700-mile journey home came to an end.
Lawrence firefighters carefully hoisted and hung a gigantic American flag in the air between two ladder trucks over Route 114.
The procession, from Logan Airport in Boston, came off Interstate 495 onto Route 114 and went right under Old Glory hanging from the ladders above.
The motorcade was led by dozens of motorcycles, then local and state police and firefighters and then her hearse, with the Marine Corps symbol affixed to the side.
After bagpipers played “Amazing Grace,” the crowds were silent as she passed and made her way to the Farrah Funeral Home on Lawrence Street.
City workers handed out nearly 800 flags to those who lined the streets for the procession. The flags represented the total of the city’s veterans who have died in war, explained worker Laura Alefantis.
“It was our way to recognize other fallen brothers and sisters in arms standing with her and welcoming her home as well,” she said.
Students from Central Catholic High School in Lawrence dominated a street corner, showing their respects for Rosario.
Meanwhile, Lynn Sayarath, a mother from Templeton, Massachusetts, drove a little more than an hour with her sons, Tai, 11, and Jaiden, 14, to be in Lawrence on Saturday.
“This is a lesson that can’t be taught in a classroom and so significant on 9/11. There was no question in mind. We had to come,” said Sayarath, whose father, John Cormier, 71, is a disabled Vietnam War veteran who served in the Navy.
Sayarath said she wants to impress on her boys the role and importance of strong women as well as patriotism.
“From the time I was very little being a proud American was very important. I know they can read about things in a textbook but it doesn’t hold the same meaning as being here today,” she said.
A wake will be held for Rosario on Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Stadium from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. She will be buried at Bellevue Cemetery, in the veterans section, later Tuesday afternoon.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.