Disneyland recently paid tribute to one of the 13 fallen U.S. servicemen who died in the Aug. 26 Afghanistan attack.
That marine was Hunter Lopez, 22 from the City of Indio, California, and according to his mother, he was a huge fan of Disney, especially Star Wars.
“He’d dress up as a Jedi for Halloween, he knew all the movies, all the lines—even the background characters,” Alicia Lopez told Disney Parks Blog.
Prior to Hunter being deployed, he told his parents that when he passed away, he wanted to be buried with the lightsaber he had custom built at Disneyland back in Nov. 2019. Less than two years later after his death, Alicia said she simply could not part with the lightsaber he had built, so his family recently drove from their home in Indio and went to Disneyland in order to build an exact replica of model, which would be buried with him instead.
“As we walked into Disneyland, the marching band was coming out onto Main Street [U.S.A.] and started to play a Star Wars song,” Mrs. Lopez told Disney Parks Blog. “We don’t know if it was Disney magic or whether it was Hunter, but either way it felt good knowing he was there with us.”
Additionally, after a friend found out about the family wanting to rebuild the replica, they helped arrange with Disney for the family to build it privately together at Savi’s Workshop in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which was a special moment for all of them.
After building the replica, the family headed over to the Club 33 restaurant, where they were presented with a folded-up American flag that was flying over Disneyland, a traditional honor for fallen soldiers.
“We took the American flag that was flying over Disneyland and quickly had it framed and created a plaque, so we could present it to the family,” Dan Hughes, Vice President of security at Disneyland said.
“I said, ‘Your son’s sacrifice means the world to our country and also to us at Disneyland, and it’s our honor to give you this token of our appreciation,’” Dan recounted. “Mrs. Lopez broke down in tears and said, ‘My son loved Disneyland,’ and the whole room got choked up.”
There were also 13 glasses of champagne on the service counter during their visit in order to commemorate the servicemen lost in the Kabul attack.
After being presented with the plaque, Alicia told the room how her family had been annual pass holders for years, with Hunter loving to visit the resort since he was a young toddler, and how Winnie the Pooh was one of his other favorites when he was young. Alicia recounted how she still refers to him as “Hunter Pooh” to this day.
Hunter’s service must have been an inspiration to his younger siblings, as his brother Owen has just enlisted into the army a few hours before the family received a knock on the door from officers informing them about Hunter’s casualty.
Hunter planned to follow in his parents’ footsteps and work in law enforcement in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department after he finished fighting for the country.
“Disneyland is all about celebration and happiness, so it’s not often that we see or hear this in our work,” said Club 33 General Manager Luke Stedman. “But in this divisive world, when we can all come together and support something so meaningful, it’s a reminder of how much pride our cast can take in what this place means to people.”