Nearly 4,500 U.S. servicemen and women have given their lives for their country in Afghanistan and Iraq. California alone has lost 476 soldiers.

Many Americans have grown numb to reports of ambushes, grenade attacks and suicide bombings in those distant lands. Maybe, say cynics and skeptics, we've become insensitive to the ongoing struggle, battles and casualties there. Worse yet, they may claim, we no longer appreciate the ultimate sacrifice by the thousands who have given their lives in service to America.

Friday, those skeptics should have been in Sonora.

Putting politics aside, this community came together for an unprecedented show of grief, respect, appreciation and gratitude for Bobby Rapp, a 22-year-old American soldier who lost his life in a March 3 suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

Shortly after 9 a.m., with church bells tolling, thousands lined a yellow ribbon-bedecked Washington Street as the funeral procession passed. Except for the church bells, there was not a sound as the hearse carrying the flag-draped coffin drove through downtown Sonora. Flags were waved and tears shed.

En route to the church the cortege drove by Sonora Elementary School where Bobby was a student. The students saluted their hero.

An estimate of over 1,000 bid Bobby farewell at a Sierra Bible Church funeral service where the overflow stood outside, where speakers had been set up, to hear the tributes to Bobby.

Sharp, stirring reports of a 21-gun salute filled the air at Dambacher Mountain Memorial Cemetery as the young patriot was put to rest.

Footage from the day-long tribute aired on Sacramento TV stations and viewers from suburbs and cities throughout Northern California learned what we already know: Community bonds in this small town are always firm, but never are they so strong as when tragedy hits.

The Rapp family has, for decades, contributed to Tuolumne County. Jennifer Rapp, Bobby's mom, was a leader in Sonora Elementary and Sonora High school parent groups. Dad, Ted Rapp, was a ski coach who worked closely with Bobby, brother Patrick and many more young athletes. Jennifer for years ran a day-care business in her home, and in the process became friends with scores of parents and children.

This community knew the Rapps, took Bobby's death very personally, and have answered in very personal ways as well:

? A Sonora Area Foundation fund set up in his name last week drew $2,500 in contributions during its first 24 hours. Donations, by Bobby's wishes, will go to Sonora Elementary athletics, the Sonora High cross country and golf teams and the local chapter of Operation MOM.

? Dodge Ridge Wintersports Area will name a ski run after Bobby.

? Sonora Elementary School will name its annual cross-country meet the Rapp's Run Invitational, and its teachers, many of whom had Bobby in their classes, have planted a tree in his memory.

? Medal of Honor recipient Jon Cavaiani, elected the 2008 Mother Lode Roundup's honorary town marshal, will share the honor with Rapp and intends to lead a riderless black stallion up Washington Street in his memory during the May 10 Roundup parade.

The meaning of community, those same skeptics and cynics may say, has disappeared amid a mad and selfish rush for gratification.

But Bobby Rapp, his family and our community have proven them wrong.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Ron Horton; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.