Tuesday, October 21, 2014


The hearse carrying U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams arrives at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

Flags held by the Patriot Guard line the entry way to the Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind. prior to the funeral service for U.S. Army Ssgt. Jesse Williams Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. Following the service a processional traveled to Rice Cemetery in Elkhart, Ind. for burial. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

People gather just outside of Rice Cemetery to pay their respects to U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

The alter area of Granger Community Church stands decorated as they begin the funeral service for U.S. Army Ssgt. Jesse Williams Friday, Jan. 3, 2014.Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. Following the service a processional traveled to Rice Cemetery for burial. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams is brought to final resting site at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

The hearse carrying U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams arrives at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

Senator Joe Donnelly speaks at Jesse Williams’ funeral at Granger Community Church Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. In addition to Donnelly, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski also spoke. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Rev. Mark Waltz, left, stands in front of the flag-draped casket as he makes remarks prior to the burial of U.S. Army Ssgt. Jesse Williams at Rice Cemetery Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The military burial was performed after a processional traveled from Granger Community Church following the funeral service. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Jesse Williams’ mother Debbie Bussard Passerallo, right, walks with her husband Sam Passerallo flanked by flags as they leave Granger Community Church in Granger, Ind. following the funeral service for U.S. Army Ssgt. Jesse Williams Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. Following the service a processional traveled to Rice Cemetery in Elkhart, Ind. for burial. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

The hearse carrying U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams arrives at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

Military personnel carry folded flags as family and friends gather graveside for services for U.S. Army Ssgt. Jesse Williams at Rice Cemetery Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The military burial was performed after a processional traveled from Granger Community Church following the funeral service. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Hundreds of people gather at the final resting place of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

A traffic controller waves in cars to Rice Cemetery in Elkhart prior to the arrival of the funeral procession carrying U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams, who was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. Williams, who had been in the Army for eight years, leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

Mourners stand graveside during the burial for U.S. Army Ssgt. Jesse Williams at Rice Cemetery Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The full military burial followed the funeral service at Granger Community Church. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

People line the paths at Rice Cemetery in Elkhart with flags to pay their respects to fallen U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

Sargent First Class Janice Pleasant looks toward heaven as she begins her remarks at Jesse Williams’ funeral at Granger Community Church Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Three friends spoke about their friend and fellow soldier during the service, which preceded the burial at Rice Cemetery. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Sargent First Class Janice Pleasant wipes a tear from her eye as she makes remarks at Jesse Williams’ funeral at Granger Community Church Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Three friends spoke about their friend and fellow soldier during the service, which preceded the burial at Rice Cemetery. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Flags are reflected off the hearse that carried U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jessie Williams to his final resting site at Rice Cemetery on Friday, Jan. 3, 2013. Williams was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. He had been in the Army for eight years and leaves behind a six-year-old daughter (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

A military honor guard moves the flag-draped casket for Ssgt. Jesse Williams into position for burial services at Rice Cemetery following the funeral service at Granger Community Church Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Williams served in the U.S. Army and was killed in Afghanistan on Dec. 17, 2014. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

The military honor guard fires a gun salute graveside in honor of U.S. Army Ssgt. Jesse Williams during a full military burial at Rice Cemetery Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. The burial followed a funeral service at Granger Community Church. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Trucks from the Elkhart Fire Department erect an enormous flag at the entrance of Rice Cemetery for U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams, who was killed on Dec. 17 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. Williams, who had been in the Army for eight years, leaves behind a six-year-old daughter. (Truth Photo By Jon Garcia) (AP)

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski speaks at Jesse Williams’ funeral at Granger Community Church Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. In addition to Walorski, Senator Joe Donnelly also spoke. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)

Private Josh Sizemore, right, pauses as he speaks at Jesse Williams’ funeral at Granger Community Church Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. Jeremy Reglogle is at left. Three friends spoke about their friend and fellow soldier during the service, which preceded the burial at Rice Cemetery. Williams was killed in Afghanistan Dec. 17, 2013. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) (AP)
Army Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams' funeral draws US dignitaries, more than 700 attendees
Posted on Jan. 3, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 3, 2014 at 6:55 p.m.

GRANGER — Who was Army Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams?

Friends of the young soldier who died in Afghanistan in December tried to answer that question at Williams' funeral Friday, Jan. 3 — and it didn't take long for a theme to emerge.

Williams was determined. He didn't complain. He easily inspired those around him to do better. Family was his priority.

Sgt. First Class Janice Pleasant, who had served alongside Williams in Afghanistan, said Williams talked about his family back home constantly — especially his daughter, 6-year-old Madison.

“He talked about his family a lot, but his number one prize was Madison,” Pleasant said.

Madison had sent him a picture she had drawn of herself, Pleasant said, and Williams proudly displaying the drawing on his desk and “talked about it for days” with co-workers.

“She was the light that kept him going,” Pleasant said.

Private Josh Sizemore also spoke about Williams, saying that Williams had saved his life during a time when he needed help.

“He means so much more to me than what I could ever express in words,” Sizemore said, struggling to speak through emotion. “I promise I won't let his legacy down.”

Jeremy Replogle, a lifetime friend of Williams, said Williams' decision to join the Army — and his change in demeanor afterward — inspired him to turn his life around too.

“My life has changed because of him,” Replogle said. “Just the way he presented himself and carried himself — he was always pushing to be better.”

Between 700 and 800 people attended the funeral Friday afternoon, according to a spokesperson for Granger Community Church. Among those were U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski.

“On behalf of the people of the United States and a grateful nation, we want to thank you for Jesse's dedication...and your sacrifice,” Donnelly said, addressing Williams' family at the funeral.

Walorski said she felt “heartsick” about William's death. She also offered thanks to the Patriot Guard Riders for their presence and support, adding she had never seen anything like it.

The Patriot Guard, a nonprofit group committed to helping families after a military death, again surrounded the church and the graveside service at Rice Cemetery, holding American flags. The Westboro Baptist Church group did not protest at Williams' funeral, though the group had stated in a press release that they would attend.

Also speaking at the funeral was Army Brigadier General William Scott, who reminded those listening that Williams also had a family relationship with the Army.

“The strength of our nation is with our Army, and the strength of our Army is with our soldiers,” he said. “But the strength of the soldiers is with the families and the communities that support them.”

Scott said that he was impressed by the show of support that the local community had shown in the past few days for Williams.

Arvis Dawson, executive assistant to Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, offered a few words, saying that the city of Elkhart is supportive of Williams' family.

“We all have so much love for (Williams), but that's all we have,” Dawson said. “So little, when he gave so much.”

Following the funeral at Granger Community Church, Williams was laid to rest in Rice Cemetery in Elkhart with military honors.