Last December, Elkhart native U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams was killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan.
On Thursday, his family received a Purple Heart for his service.
The award is given to members of the armed forces wounded during war.
Dec. 17, 2013, Williams was on a Black Hawk transport helicopter with five other soldiers when it was shot down. His family heard about the crash and immediately tried to determine the last time someone spoke with Williams—dreading that it may be him.
The following morning they received a knock on the door and learned Williams died.
“We don’t have a lot of closure” said Williams’ younger sister Rosy.
“He’s been gone almost a year now, since Fathers’ Day when he left. So we haven’t been able to physically see him in such a long time it just doesn’t seem real,” Rosy added.
Williams’ parents and siblings said he rarely talked about the details of his deployments. The Jesse Williams they knew wasn’t just a staff sergeant, he was the Jesse they saw grow up.
Rosy describes looking over the military paraphernalia and hearing Williams’ military family talk about him as “surreal,” adding that when he was home he didn’t wear a uniform, didn’t salute people, he was “just Jesse.”
For the past seven-plus years, Williams’ family watched him develop into a physical machine, extremely disciplined and dedicated.
“Oh the pride,” said Williams’ mother, Debbie Passerallo.
A proud mother, Passerallo displays all of Williams’ medals, commendations, photos, and letters in a special spot in her home.
“I guess we’re looking for Jesse in these things, but he’s not in these things,” instead, Passerallo said her son remains in her heart and mind.
In a small presentation that began with a prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, Williams' family was first presented with a plaque for the "Wall of Honor" for fallen heroes in Indianapolis.
U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Walorski presented the Purple Heart to Williams' family in a ceremony at Granger Community Church, the same place that hosted his funeral service in January.
Williams' mother, father, and daughter each received an individual medal as a token of his ultimate sacrifice.
"It's a medal that honors sacrifice," Rep. Walorski explained. "It's not a medal that can be achieved with any kind of outstanding recognition on the battlefield or anything like that. It really signifies the loss of blood and ... what it takes to continue to maintain liberty, and so it's a unique medal."
"Sometimes you think it's one of the best things he could be honored with," began Passerallo. "Then there's other times you think it's just a piece of metal, when you think of Jesse, who's bigger than life. But it's a good thing, and the fact that everybody wanted to honor him and just share this with us means a lot, it really does."
Williams served three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.