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U.S. Navy Airman from St. Petersburg carries civil rights icon John Lewis to Capitol

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – U.S. Navy Airman Louis Cotto admits, even though he had served during hundreds of funerals, this morning he had butterflies. It was the most important assignment of his military career.

Cotto, a St. Petersburg native, is a member of the ceremonial honor guard and was one of the pallbearers delivering civil rights icon John Lewis to the capitol.

Cotto graduated from Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg in 2018. He played football for Lakewood and two other schools in the city and went onto college.

But playing football in college wasn’t working out, so he decided to join the service. He learned very quickly, he wasn’t taking the easy path in life.

“Me getting into the military, it wasn’t always easy. I had to push through and fight. I had to fight no matter what,” said Airman Cotto. “I just had to push through all of the tough times.”

That’s what drove him to put his name in the hat for the honor guard. He recently learned he had been chosen to serve during John Lewis’ funeral. One of his first phone calls was to his grandma Beatrice.

Airman Louis Cotto and Grandmother Beatrice Niblack

“It teared my grandma up a little bit. She was very proud of me,” said Airman Cotto. “It’s hard to explain. She was just very proud of me.”

Nervousness set in when the alarm rang on Monday morning. Not only were his loved ones watching, but an entire nation. He knew everything had to be right.

“Yeah, I was shaking a lot. Because when I got there, it caught me off guard. I was like, I’m going to treat it like any other funeral.” said Airman Cotto. “But you can’t treat it like any other funeral. With cameras pointed at your face and media is everywhere. This is a very important man. He’s a part of history.”

Airman Cotto plans to make service to our country his career, and he hopes others will see what he has accomplished and follow his lead.

“And it is discipline. It’s a lot of discipline.” said Airman Cotto. “And you’ve got to step up and be a leader no matter what.”


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