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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fallen soldier comes home

Family members and nearly 100 Indiana Patriot Guard riders met Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams' remains in South Bend. Sgt. Williams' funeral will be held next week.

Posted on Dec. 27, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 27, 2013 at 12:47 p.m.

ELKHART — More than 20 miles of the U.S. 20 Bypass was blocked off on Friday morning, Dec. 27, but it wasn't because of weather or an accident.

The road between South Bend and Elkhart was at a standstill for a processional carrying the remains of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams, 30 — a soldier from Elkhart who was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan 10 days earlier.

Most drivers craned their necks, looking to see what the hubbub was all about. But one little girl, standing with her family near a blocked-off area, knew exactly why the road was closed.

She held a small American flag in the air as high as she could reach, waving it vigorously as she tried to keep her other hand warm by holding it to her face.

She was one of many who stood outside on the cold morning to show support for Williams' family.

“Our hearts are busted in a million pieces,” Debbie Bussard Passerallo, Williams' mother, said later, surrounded by family outside Billings Funeral Home in Elkhart. “But we do believe (Williams) is part of God's army right now.”

Passerallo asked that people sympathizing with her and other family members not forget about the soldiers who are still overseas. She also asked for support for the lone survivor of the helicopter crash that killed her son and five others, adding that “every flag should be at half mast until every soldier from this tragedy is home.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, who stood with family as they received Williams' body at the South Bend Regional Airport Friday morning, said that he is glad to offer his support.

“Jesse is a proud son of Elkhart,” Donnelly said. “Jesse volunteered — no one made him go, he volunteered to stand up and protect all of us — we owe a huge debt of gratitude to him.”

Also present Friday were nearly 100 Indiana Patriot Guard Riders. Ride captain Russ Bauer said that the Patriot Guard sees it as their duty to protect Williams on his final trip home, and to provide help for Williams' family.

“Long after the military is gone, the community is gone, we'll be here,” Bauer said. “One of the main reasons we are here is for (the family), to show them that someone cares.”

Williams' mother and stepfather are both members of the Patriot Guard, Bauer said, which made Friday's mission special for the Riders.

“They are all special, not one of them is more special than another,” Bauer said, referring to other Patriot Guard missions for other soldiers. “But this one is in the family. (Williams) is a brother. I don't know how else to explain it, except that this is what we do.”

Kim Foster, another ride captain from Kokomo, said she became a Patriot Guard Rider after the group showed up at her nephew's funeral when he was killed in action in Afghanistan seven years ago.

“It's what we are supposed to do,” she said about the ride. “All of us — it's in our hearts. It's the least we can do for our soldiers.”

Foster has a son in the Army too, and she will see him for the first time in 10 months on Saturday.

“As an Army mom, I'm blessed that my son is safe — but I always have to stand for him and everyone else,” she said, gesturing to the mourners surrounding Williams' family. “This is our life,” she added.

Williams' visitation is set for 4 to 8 p.m. Jan. 2 at Granger Community Church, 630 E. University Drive, Mishawaka. The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Jan. 3 at Granger Community Church, with visitation beginning at 11 a.m. Interment will immediately follow the funeral service in Rice Cemetery in Elkhart.

By ADAM BEAM Associated Press
Posted 55 minutes ago
By CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs Writer
Posted 1 hour ago
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