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Dispatcher engineered stirring tribute to fallen Marine

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-excerpted from the San Jose Mercury News

The holiday shoppers and weekend travelers driving up I-280 on the Peninsula last Saturday slowed down when they came to Sand Hill Road, wondering why six fire engines were parked on the overpass, red lights whirling.  I was not a bad accident - it was part of a heart-felt tribute by 10 fire departments to a fallen U.S. Marine from San Jose, Lance Corporal Arden Joseph A. Buenagua, who was being buried that day in Golden Gate National Cemetery.

On nearly every I-280 overpass along the funeral procession's route from Milpitas to San Bruno, firefighters stood by to honor a young man they never knew. The touching display was orchestrated by San Jose Fire Department dispatcher Tracy Deitschman, a 27-year department veteran determined that even amid the holiday hustle and bustle, we not forget that young Americans are dying far away in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Deitschman has a brother and a nephew in the military, so when she saw a TV report about Buenagua's death, she felt for his family. "I thought, oh my gosh, they probably got notified on Thanksgiving Day," she told me. "Everyone else would be going about getting their turkey together, and they would be in mourning."

On Dec. 1, Buenagua's remains came home to San Jose. Deitschman was on duty that day, and arranged for fire crews to be posted along the route from the airport to the funeral home. The spectacle prompted lots of calls from curious motorists to police and to our own Mr. Roadshow.

But Deitschman wasn't finished. The next day she began putting together an even bigger tribute for the young man's funeral. She visualized gleaming fire trucks on every overpass between the site of the funeral in Milpitas and Golden Gate National Cemetery. A determined Deitschman started calling fire departments up and down the Peninsula and explained her plan.

"I just told them what was happening," she said, "and if they could help out, it would be a wonderful display to honor our fallen."

The agencies were moved by the idea. "We think it's a nice thing that we can do," said Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman. "We all wish we could do more."

The result was a visual and powerful tribute no one could miss. Some firefighters wore dress uniforms. Others hoisted flags on their engine ladders. San Jose alone covered nine overpasses with 16 trucks.

- Patti Fisher/San Jose Mercury News

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