The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
Heather Tollefson never met Cpl. Eric-John Niss-De Jesus. But she couldn’t let the grieving family of the fallen Marine from Mountain Lake pass by without showing her gratitude.
She coordinated veteran color guards, honor guards, firefighters and a medley of citizens to line Highway 169 through downtown St. Peter as Niss-De Jesus’s family brought his body home.
Niss-De Jesus, 24, was stationed in Japan and drowned June 5 while swimming off the coast.
People gathered in St. Peter and several other area communities to pay tribute to the Marine and his family as he was brought home Thursday afternoon.
“Any chance I have to honor a soldier, especially a fallen soldier, I jump in,” said Tollefson, a St. Peter small business owner and member of the St. Peter American Legion Auxiliary.
Niss-De Jesus graduated from Mountain Lake High School in 2015, where he was a member of the National Honor Society, FFA and football team.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Minnesota and joined the Marines shortly after graduating.
He was stationed at Camp Kinser in Okinawa as a military dog trainer, according to the Stars and Stripes military publication. He had recently been selected to the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Program.
Niss-De Jesus was swimming with fellow Marines during a weekend off when he was caught in a rip tide, according to his family members. His body was recovered from the ocean a few days later.
Wearing red, white and blue and carrying a U.S. flag that usually flies in front of their house, members of the Campbell family of St. Peter were among the estimated 200 people who gathered in Minnesota Square Park to pay tribute to the corporal.
“It’s pretty amazing to see all the people come together,” said Kayla Campbell.
Members of Boy Scout Troop 24 based in Mankato and their families stood nearby.
Scout Henry Carleton said he came to “support a soldier who gave his life so we can be free.”
“And his family,” added Scout Joey Biederman.
People also gathered in towns including Le Sueur, Mankato, Lake Crystal, Madelia, St. James and Butterfield, which were along the route from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Mountain Lake.
More than 100 people came out in Le Sueur, including honor guards, the St. Peter American Legion Riders, police officers, firefighters, veterans and ordinary citizens.
“I am so proud of our community and absolutely blown away by the support I’ve seen from the communities along the route,” said Shannon Frost, commander of the Le Sueur VFW Post 4297.
Although she’d never met Niss-De Jesus or his family, or even ever been to Mountain Lake in Cottonwood County, Frost felt called to organize the show of gratitude in Le Sueur.
“Every military member deserves a welcome home tribute. Especially our fallen. This didn’t always happen in the past,” the Navy veteran said.
Niss-De Jesus’ funeral will be held Saturday at Mountain Lake High School and will be streamed online. See tinyurl.com/Niss-deJesus.
(c)2021 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)
Visit The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.) at www.mankatofreepress.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.