A young combat veteran was laid to rest before his time Friday.
But his mother swears her son's life did not end in vain. And a powerful local congressman has promised to help.
David Cole Lang, 33, a 2002 graduate of Highland High School and a former lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, survived two combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, including two roadside bomb explosions.
But the married father of two, who according to his family suffered horribly from traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related injuries, died April 25 when Dr. Edwin Zong, the owner of Garden Oasis Medical, shot and killed Lang at Zong's Goodman Street office after he said the younger man attacked him.
Bakersfield police determined Zong, who could not be reached Friday, shot Lang in self-defense.
At a reception held at her northeast Bakersfield home following the funeral, Lang's mother, Karen Galyan, held two sets of her son's dog tags, one still caked with mud, and each painted black so as not to give enemy snipers a reflecting target.
"Cole lost so many friends," she said. "He has been to several of his friends' funerals."
He lived through horrific scenes, and those images came home with him, she said.
"He told me, 'Mom, my mind won't shut off.'
"He would wake up screaming," she remembered. "I mean, really screaming."
Lang — his family and friends called him Cole — worked at General Machine Works until enlisting in the Marines in 2004. A few days after graduating from boot camp he married Monique, the love of his life. The couple have a daughter and a son.
The young Marine was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq on the Fourth of July 2005. He returned for a second tour in January 2007. By May 2008 he was in Afghanistan.
At Friday's funeral, held at Basham Funeral Care, several fellow Marines who served with Lang in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines — known as the two-seven — remembered him for his playful smirk, his love for his fellow Marines, and his incessant talk of Monique.
Pallbearer Allen Speakes remembered how Lang took under his wing a young Marine who was taking a lot from his seniors.
"The things Cole did for that guy really showed his character," Speakes told the gathering.
A family friend, Roberto "Beto" Hurtado, told mourners that years ago he performed in a "drag" show at a local gay club.
"When I looked out in the audience, I saw Cole sitting out there. It made me happy," Hurtado recalled.
"I never thought in a million years he would go to a gay club to watch me perform."
But for Lang, it was about character, about doing the right thing, even if it meant taking a risk.
But when he returned home, the PTSD and depression set in. He self-medicated with drugs. And he was never the same.
Now, Lang's mother said, it's time to do right by her son. And all returning veterans.
Her first priority is making sure her son's family receives the survivor benefits she believes are due them from the Veterans Administration.
But when she called, she was told her son's death certificate did not carry the PTSD reference necessary to receive the benefits.
"Without that, his wife and children will get nothing," she said.
So far, the Kern County coroner's office, which processed the death certificate, has been resistant to make the change, she said, despite documentation.
But Galyan has a secret weapon. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, attended Friday's funeral. He told The Californian he plans to call the secretary of the VA and argue on the family's behalf.
"I want to make sure the wife and children get the benefits that are due them," he said.
In addition, he wants to provide the grieving mother with a bigger megaphone to address the larger issue of support for all returning vets.
"Too many men and women are not receiving the support they need when they come home," he said. "Is there some other help Cole could have gotten? Is there something the VA could have done better?"
Sitting in her living room, her son's dog tags around her neck, Galyan was adamant, determined.
"Cole never came home," she said. “In his mind, Cole never came home."
"There are more Coles in Bakersfield. My son was not the only one going through that.
"I want to find them," she said. "And I want them to find each other."