A TV screen flashed a picture of a baby smiling into a camera, followed by nearly 20 minutes of footage highlighting Maximo A. Flores’ 27 years on earth — his high school graduation, boot camp, his wedding in his dress blues.
Nearby, the U.S. Marine Corps staff sergeant’s flag-draped casket sat center stage at the SouthWest Funeral Home chapel as family and friends gathered to say final goodbyes August 3.
“He was a wonderful son,” said Flores’ mother, Rosa Bennett. “He dedicated his life (by) going to the Marines.”
Flores, a Litchfield Park native, and four fellow Marines went missing and were declared dead December 11, five days after their refueling plane collided with a U.S. fighter jet off of Japan’s coast. Flores was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan.
The pilot from the jet also died in the mid-air refueling accident while a crew member survived.
A two-week salvage operation from late May to early June recovered Flores’ remains and two other Marines from the tanker.
His father, Maximo Flores, who served six years in the Marines, said he would have stayed in the Corps until he retired and he had plans to go to either drill instructor school or to recruiter school.
“He was a very, very humble man, loving, patient, generous, caring,” he said. “I mean you can’t use no bad words against him, and I don’t say that because he is my son. Everybody else will give you the same testimony.
“He was always willing to help others; he was the best son I could ask for.”
Flores said his son never got into trouble and was an all-around good kid who earned good grades.
“He was the best big brother anyone could ask for,” said Stephanie Galvan, who was a year younger than Flores. “He was very smart. Growing up if I had any questions on homework, I’d kind of go straight to him. He always had my back. He always had my best interest at heart. I would do anything for him, and he would do anything for me.”
Flores had four sisters and a brother.
August 2, his casket arrived to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport aboard a commercial airliner, where it was met by his family and the Marine Honor Guard.
After the coffin was loaded into a white hearse, it was escorted to the El Mirage funeral home in part by the Patriot Guard Riders, who are able to block traffic at intersections.
That Saturday morning, approximately 20 riders, all volunteers, stood outside the funeral home in the humidity to honor Flores. The group at invitation of the decedent’s family attend the funerals of active duty military, veterans and first responders.
“They provide the freedom we enjoy today,” said Tom Burns, state captain of the Arizona chapter and a former Marine. He said his chapter attended about 350 funerals last year and 150 so far this year.
Burns gave a brief bio of Flores to the over 100 family and friends who gathered outside the chapel after the coffin was placed into a hearse by six Marines that included Flores’ dad in his dress blues.
A few of Flores’ comrades from his squadron, nicknamed the “Sumos,” including the squadron’s sergeant major, Charles Tyler, also attended the funeral.
“He was my Marine,” Tyler later said of Flores.
Flores was assigned to the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 152 and earned awards, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Humanitarian Service Medal, Burns told the crowd.
“He served nine years,” he said. “He served all of us for nine years. He truly exemplified honor, courage and commitment.”
After leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, Burns asked them to form a circle, join hands and sing “God Bless the USA.”
The riders then followed the attendees and hearse to the nearby burial site, where the Marine Honor Guard team provided the funeral honors that included a rifle-volley salute, a bugler performing Taps and the ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag from Flores’ casket to his wife, Rebecca. The two were married for six years and did not have children. A second pre-folded flag was presented to Bennett.
The riders also presented three plaques — one to Rebecca, one to his father and one to his mother.
As Flores’ coffin slowly lowered into the ground, his father stood at attention and suddenly belted out the Marines’ Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores to Tripoli. We fight our country’s battles in the air, on land, and sea…” and ended with the Marine battle cry, “Oorah.”
Later, Flores said he had mixed emotion as he watched his son finally laid to rest.
“I was happy and sad,” he said. “But happier than anything else because he is home and it’s going to bring some closure. When I found out that he was going to be buried here I feel like I can spend the night with him and hang out here and drink a Modelo. That was his favorite beer, a Modelo.”