It didn't take long for a central theme to emerge at the funeral of U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Livermore, an event attended by hundreds of area residents Friday at Union Cemetery in Bakersfield.

It's a theme that stems from a widespread local belief that the men and women who have served in the nation's armed forces are held in particularly high esteem here in the southern valley.

“In Bakersfield and Kern County, we celebrate our veterans like no place else on Earth,” Bakersfield Chief of Police Lyle Martin told the gathering of mourners.

He described the scene in front of police headquarters on Thursday when the motorcade carrying Livermore's remains passed the station on Truxtun Avenue.

Virtually the entire force of sworn BPD officers “stood at attention,” as the hearse carrying Livermore's remains passed by, Martin said.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood echoed the theme, praising the people of Kern County for the respect and gratitude shown to Livermore and all those who have served in the armed forces.

“Thank God we live in Kern County,” he said. “From Bakersfield to Ridgecrest, the most patriotic place in the country — and I've been to a lot of places.”

Livermore's homecoming was long overdue.

The East Bakersfield High School alumnus was 19 when he enlisted to fight against Nazi fascism and Japanese military expansion during World War II. Less than two years later, he was among 18,000 Marines charged with the task of wresting control of the Pacific Atoll of Tarawa from well-entrenched Japanese forces.

The Americans ultimately were successful, but Livermore was among many who lost their lives in the fierce fighting. He was only 21 when he was killed by an enemy bayonet, fighting in desperate hand-to-hand combat. The date was Nov. 22, 1943.

He was buried on the island, but after the war, when the remains of servicemen were brought home, Livermore was not among them.

The location of his remains and those of other Marines would not be discovered for decades until efforts by the organization History Flight located a burial site. This summer, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified Livermore's remains.

State Sen. Shannon Grove, who helped coordinate the effort to bring Livermore home, was in the motorcade Thursday as it carried Livermore's remains from Los Angeles International Airport to Bakersfield.

As the procession of vehicles headed north on Interstate 5, Grove told mourners Friday, they passed under a bridge where a large contingent of Kern County firefighters stood at attention, saluting as the motorcade passed beneath.

When the motorcade pulled into the Flying J at the Frazier Park exit, Grove said she was amazed to see people holding flags on both sides of the caravan.

“It was truly a hero's welcome,” she said.

Among the hundreds who came to pay their respects Friday was a man who held a tri-folded U.S. Marine Corps flag. His name was David Halle, and his late father, LeRoy Halle, was also a Marine who fought in the Battle of Tarawa.

Halle's dad survived the battle, but died in 1973. When David Halle heard that the remains of a long-lost Marine who fought with his dad in Tarawa were finally coming home, the emotion was overwhelming.

“This was the flag that draped my father's coffin,” he said of the Marine Corps colors he held in his hands.

Had his father been killed and Livermore had lived, Halle realized, he would not have been born. Everything he has and everything he became would never have been.

Such was the sacrifice made by Livermore. A life that never had the time to blossom.

It's a sacrifice that is almost too profound to fully grasp.

Livermore was laid to rest Friday beside his mother, Dorothy Livermore.

It took 76 years, but now he can rest, Livermore's 67-year-old nephew Darrell Feliz said of his uncle's long journey home.

“I want to thank everyone for being here,” he told those who came to mourn the loss and celebrate the homecoming of Pfc. Joseph Livermore.

Then holding back tears, he seemed to confirm what many had been saying.

“This is the most wonderful community you could ever live in,” he said.

©2019 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.