Hundreds of people lined the streets of Muskegon, Michigan, this week to pay tribute to a true hero.
Cena the black labrador served in Afghanistan over six months in 2009 and 2010 alongside U.S. Marine veteran Lance Cpl. Jeff DeYoung, who recalled the deep bond he shared with his “brother” during that time.
He threw his body on Cena’s while under heavy machine gun fire from the Taliban, DeYoung told The Associated Press. In turn, Cena kept him warm on frigid nights and gave him comfort as war raged and friends died in combat around him.
Years later, DeYoung adopted Cena, a bomb-sniffing dog who served three tours in Afghanistan with the Marines. A service dog in his retirement, Cena helped DeYoung cope with post-traumatic stress disorder and other personal challenges. “This dog, this brother of mine, has sat with me through a divorce, through homelessness, through missed jobs, my PTSD strikes and waking up in my bathtub crying,” DeYoung said at a Veterans Day ceremony in 2015.
“Because of him I was able to live,” DeYoung said of Cena in recent a Facebook post.
When Cena was recently diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, DeYoung, who lives in Muskegon, Michigan, said he was incapacitated with grief. “To be frank, I hid under the desk in the vet’s office, I threw my phone against the wall and the vet had to leave the room until I could compose myself,” DeYoung told Fox 17 this month. Veterinarians gave Cena just weeks to live.
On Wednesday, DeYoung said goodbye to his faithful 10-year-old friend in an emotional public farewell that he and the Marine Corps League had planned to honor Cena’s life and service.
DeYoung and Cena, decked out in a decorated Marine vest, took their last ride together in a topless Jeep Wrangler through downtown Muskegon, as hundreds looked on.
Before Cena was euthanized at the USS LST-393, a World War II-era museum ship, people huddled around the labrador, smothering him with smooches and snuggles.
Several military service members attended the ceremony, MLive.com reported.
“Taps,” the bugle call often heard at military funerals, was played at the museum to honor Cena, and a convoy of Patriot Guard Riders, hailing from all across the state, stood in a silent flag line outside.
In a Tuesday Facebook post, DeYoung expressed his devastation at the impending loss of his companion.
“My last night with Cena,” he wrote. “Words cannot convey what I’m feeling and thinking. I want to run away and not face what I must do. But he needs me to be strong and set him free. He has blessed my life with love and admiration, happiness and strength.”
“Goodnight my friend, goodbye my brother,” DeYoung continued. “May you rest your head tonight knowing how loved you are and how dearly you will be missed.”
Veteran Jacobie Baumann set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Cena’s funeral and headstone.
Cena has “saved literally hundreds” of Marines in combat, wrote Baumann. ″This dog was more than a pet to us. He was another brother.”
The campaign had raised more than $46,000 by Friday morning.