River “Oakley” Nimmo had big dreams of being in the Army one day. The 5-year-old Arkansas boy, who died last week of a rare form of cancer, never got the chance.
But that didn’t stop service men and women from honoring Oakley at his funeral Tuesday.
Dozens of members of the Arkansas National Guard turned out for the boy’s memorial service at Cullendale First Baptist Church in Camden, where they posthumously made Oakley an honorary colonel before giving him a final salute.
Oakley’s admiration of the military won the hearts of many men and women in uniform across the state, said Maj. William Phillips, a public affairs officer with the Arkansas National Guard. Many of them had followed the boy’s brave battle on social media, and when Oakley’s family invited military members to the funeral, they were honored to oblige.
In 2015, Oakley was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells, according to a GoFundMe page that raised $52,000 for his medical treatment. Oakley spent most of his brief life in and out of hospitals, fighting the disease.
The boy was cleared of cancer two years later, after grueling rounds of chemotherapy, surgeries and a stem cell transplant, but then had a relapse.
“Oakley spent most of this life, fighting to live and did it with a smile on his face,” the boy’s obituary said. “He often talked of being an ‘Army Man,’ as he called it, when he grew up.”
Oakley’s mom, Shelby Nimmo, posted photos online of her son wearing a Navy SEALs helmet and full camo and holding a toy rifle.
Now, Oakley will be remembered as perhaps Arkansas’ youngest colonel.
“I’ve gotten phone calls and messages from all across the state, from not only our service members but people outside the community, asking for support,” Phillips said.
He said the outpouring is nothing different from the volunteer response in his state after a flood or a person goes missing.
“It’s a part of our community responsibility,” Phillips added. “We’re all Arkansans, and we’re always ready and always there to support our fellow Arkansans in a time of need.”