Sgt. Stefan Smith (Source: Fort Stewart/HAAF Public Affairs Office)
HINESVILLE, GA (WTOC) -
There was no formal invitation to the side of U.S. 84 Friday, just a call to be there, a suggestion many took as a responsibility.
Residents of Hinesville turned out to welcome home Sgt. Stefan Smith, a 3rd ID Soldier killed in action last week, a casualty of the War on Terror and another loss for this military community.
"It was very emotional for me,'' said Demteria Fiffie, a soldier with the 3rd ID's 1st Brigade. "I got a little teary-eyed. I was close to his mother. It was just very, very emotional.''
Many of the people here didn't know the Long County resident personally.
But they know this story too well, struck down in Afghanistan when his unit was attacked by an improvised explosive device. And all any of them could give was their time, their presence along Sgt. Smith's route home and their respect.
"I cannot begin to explain,'' said Rebecca Bradley, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that escorted the Hearse carrying Sgt. Smith's body, "the honor it is to be doing this.''
"It was really impressive. It wore on my heart,'' added Sgt. Anthony Herrington, a member of the 3rd ID's 1st Brigade. "That's the way soldiers need to come home. They just showed a lot of support.''
So they came as neighbors, as Americans, to honor the man who moved to the area to join the Glenville Police Department and later felt the call to serve his country. And whose homecoming was a reflection of Sgt. Smith's heroism as well as this community's pride in its heroes.
"The amount of support is just absolutely incredible,'' said Fiffie. "It's unbelievable.''
"It's very heartwarming to see the people stand behind their military men and women,'' said Emma Jean Leccese, whose son is stationed at Fort Stewart with the 3rd ID. "It's a phenomenal thing that they're here.''
And many of them wouldn't have been anywhere else when one of their own came home.