Hundreds of people in Michigan came together to say a tear-filled final goodbye to a cancer-stricken dog who served three tours in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines.
Cena the 10-year-old black lab received a hero's farewell Wednesday before being euthanized at the USS LST 393, a museum ship in Muskegon, and carried off in a flag-draped coffin.
Cena, who was recently diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, was a bomb-sniffer for the Marines until his retirement in 2014. The celebration for Cena was organized by his owner, Lance Cpl. Jeff DeYoung, who was paired with the dog in 2009 and 2010 while on a combat tour in Afghanistan and who adopted him in 2014. Cena then became DeYoung's service dog to help him with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
"My whole adult life I've had Cena," DeYoung said. "When I was 19 overseas learning how to be responsible, I had Cena. And now I'm 27 and I'm having to say goodbye to one of the biggest pieces of my life."
DeYoung said he has carried Cena across rivers and thrown his body over him while under heavy fire from the Taliban. He said Cena kept DeYoung's body warm during cold desert nights, and comforted him when he lost seven friends in three weeks.
As part of the celebration, DeYoung took his dog on one last ride in a topless Jeep that was decorated and named "Cancer Response Team."
"It started off with my basically wanting to go to a dealership and wanting to borrow a Jeep for a day and really small to a community tribute or a community parade for him and he's truly deserved it all," DeYoung said. "The support, all the love people are giving him, he can see it and he can feel it."
The ceremony was attended by the U.S. Marine Corps League, Michigan State Police, Muskegon County Sheriff's Office, Muskegon City Police, Muskegon Fire Department and officers from several other departments, including a canine officer named Rex. Attendees gave one final three-volley salute with "Taps" playing in the background for Cena, who was wearing a decorated blue Marine vest.
"Lord, it is with heavy hearts that we are sending another Marine to you today," said chaplain Wesley Spyke as he addressed the crowd in prayer.
A GoFundMe page was set up for donations to help build a headstone for Cena.
"Any dog that served overseas deserves exactly what I've done for Cena, if not more," DeYoung said.