But the torrent of affection displayed for Marine Capt. Matt Freeman Wednesday was also a symbol of an entire community's respect and support for our military, their service and their sacrifice.
"Oh my gracious, it's something that everyone should do,'' said C.A. Bland, a Coast Guard veteran who stood alongside highway 144 in Richmond Hill Wednesday to welcome the motorcade carrying the body of Freeman, who was killed in Afghanistan last week supporting combat operations. "We should pay respects to the gentleman that fought and lost his life.''
And for one day in two communities, it was impressive how many did in an expression of emotion that ranged from the outskirts of Savannah to the heart of Richmond Hill and lined the route that took Capt. Freeman home.
It was not just how many turned out, but who they were.
They were friends, like Joshua Miracle, who graduated high school with Freeman. They were acquaintances, like William Helms, who worked with Freeman's father at Gulfstream. They were people who never met the man, like Bland.
"No, I didn't know the guy at all,'' he said. "But he served his country and he paid the ultimate debt.''
But no one there was a stranger Wednesday, at this final welcome for one of our own who had given everything for all of us.
"Most of us are affected,'' said Melinda Spisso, whose husband is stationed at the 165th Airlift Wing and was present when Freeman's body arrived there on a Patriot Flight. "We have somebody, either know somebody or it's a family member that serves overseas or has served overseas and we're proud of what they do so we want to show our respect.''
That respect was palpable Wednesday in one of those moments that was awful and uplifting at the same time, wrapped in sadness but full of pride. A day when people came together as neighbors and Americans to dignify their hometown along with the hero coming home to it.