CORAL SPRINGS, Florida—Peter Wang’s dream was to go to West Point, but before he could be a soldier he laid down his life as a hero.
Wang, 15, was a cadet in the U.S. Army’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he was killed last week while helping fellow students escape a hail of gunfire that killed 17 people.
Two other JROTC members were also killed: Cadet Pvt. Alaina Petty, who was laid to rest on Monday in front of more than 1,500 mourners, and Cadet Pfc. Martin Duque, whose funeral is Saturday.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people came to honor Wang at a memorial service was attended by JROTC cadets from Stoneman Douglas and other schools across South Florida as well as military veterans and members of the local community.
Under overcast skies and a white gazebo surrounded by flowers, Wang’s mother spoke to her slain son over wailing from the listening crowd.
“I watched you walking to school on February 14... now my body is bleeding in unbearable pain. Baby, am I in a nightmare? This is unbearable. Baby, hold my hand, reach me. Baby, I’m stuck in this nightmare. Lead the way out. Baby, I can’t wait for the day to meet you again.”
English and Chinese translators choked up as they conveyed his mother’s horrific grief.
JROTC Cadet Maj. Marshall Ryan eulogized Wang as the future Army officer he aspired to become.
“He gave his life so others can live. He showed valor and courage beyond measure. Never forget his actions that day he is truly a hero,” Marshall said.
Marshall was Wang’s marksmanship instructor at Stoneman Douglas. He told the crowd, “You will always be my marksman and you will always be my friend.”
The Army gave Wang an honorary certificate of acceptance to the United States Military Academy at West Point, class of 2025. The acceptance letter, along with a cadet bust and challenge coin was displayed next to the open casket where Wang rested.
“West Point has given posthumous offers of admissions in very rare instances for those candidates or potential candidate’s whose actions exemplified the tenets of Duty, Honor and Country,” West Point said in a statement.
Per military customs, Wang’s casket was guarded by his fellow JROTC cadets, who flanked each side. Funeral attendees viewing Wang in dress uniform saw the Medal of Heroism bestowed to him by the U.S. Army on his dress uniform. The medal is the JROTC equivalent of the Medal of Honor.
Wang reportedly held a door open to let students escape the gunfire when he was shot and killed. That act of selflessness was not unusual, a student named Rachel told hundreds of mourners.
The day before the shooting, Rachel said she forgot her lunch, but Peter gave his lunch to her instead.
If last week’s shooting had never occurred, Wang was scheduled to be promoted to cadet private first class on Wednesday, two cadets told The Daily Beast.
In what has become a tradition since the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, Wang and his family were escorted to his final resting place at Star of David Memorial Gardens Cemetery and Funeral Chapel by Patriot Guard motorcycle riders and members of the American Legion.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered the Florida National Guard to render Wang with military honors at his funeral.
Like a soldier being laid to rest, the American flag was draped over Wang’s casket then folded and presented to the fallen’s family.
As an Army bugler played “Taps,” salutes went up across the crowd. Some were from old veterans or active duty service members, others were from police and firefighters that attended, but mostly, it was from Wang’s cadets, most of them too young to fight in combat but who have now experienced the reality of war.