Natasha Belton struggled to stay calm when a member of the U.S. Army Area Veterans Honor Guard handed her the American flag that had covered her great-grandfather’s casket.
“I tried not to think about it,” Belton said, clutching the flag to her heart after Delbert “Shorty” Belton’s funeral. “I was trying not to cry. I didn’t know what to do.”
Hundreds gathered to honor the life of Delbert Belton at Greenwood Memorial Terrace, where he was buried with full military honors. Dozens of members of the Patriot Guard Riders stood around the lawn, each holding an American flag.
The air was filled with quiet sobs as Belton’s flag-draped casket was brought to the service by a military guard.
Belton was brutally beaten in his car while he waited for a friend near the Eagles Lodge, and Belton’s family opted for a closed casket – Bobbie Belton, his daughter-in-law, said the injuries left him unrecognizable.
Two suspects, Demetruis Glenn and Kenan Adams-Kinard, are in custody and await trial on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery.
The 16-year-olds will be tried as adults.
Pastor Homer Todd led the crowd in prayer for the service, reflecting on Belton’s life growing up in Spokane and later serving in World War II, where he fought in the bloody Battle of Okinawa and was shot in the leg.
“Often the path of painful memories is the one that leads us in our direction of our healing,” Todd said. “Most of you have memories crowding in on you.”
Belton had a generous heart, Todd said, and was always finding ways to help his friends.
He was “full of vim and vigor,” Todd said, and despite his old age and declining health made time almost every day to have coffee or to dance with a friend at the Eagles Lodge or the Lariat Inn in Mead.
“There are a lot of gals that will miss having a partner at those events,” he said.
There was also evidence of Belton’s bravery everywhere, he said, from growing up during the Great Depression to facing the enemy in the Pacific Theater and even to the night he died.
“There is evidence on his knuckles as he faced the overwhelming odds of those who would rob him of his money and his life,” he said.
The grief was undercut with anger for many funeral-goers.
“We shouldn’t be here,” said Amber Wirick, one of Belton’s nieces. “This should not have happened.”
Wirick said she’s trying not to be mad, but it’s too difficult, knowing how her uncle died.
“I don’t understand how somebody can just do it and have no regrets at that age,” Wirick’s daughter Ashley said.
But Thursday was not a day for justice. It was a day for memory.
Since Belton’s death, family and friends have described him as a kind, loving soul who would have given anything to help a friend. His funeral was no exception.
Belton’s nephew, Dan Vavra, often spent weekends at his house. Belton helped him through what Vavra calls his troubled teen years, buying him a Shetland pony to teach him discipline. Vavra and Bill Belton, Delbert’s son, frequently went roller skating together.
It’s been a hard year for Belton’s family, Vavra said. He lost two other uncles this year, but he didn’t expect his last uncle to die the way he did.
“It’s hard on the three sisters that are left,” he said. “I worry about my mom’s health.”
The size of the crowd was overwhelming for Martha Denison, a close friend of Delbert Belton’s.
“This has gone beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. “He touched so many people’s lives in different ways.”
As the ceremony closed and mourners silently prayed, three members of the Fairchild Honor Guard fired a salute to the veteran.
One, two, three volleys of gunshots, followed by the tune of taps from a lone bugle player, rang in the air where the crowd gathered with Shorty one last time.