Saying goodbye is never easy, but Thursday night family and friends of US Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams had to do just that. Williams was among six soldiers killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan in December.
Over the past two weeks, Williams' family has undergone a whirlwind of experiences: receiving his body at the South Bend Airport, celebrating his life at a silent vigil, and finally planning a visitation and funeral.
The visitation was held at Granger Community Church, from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. Thursday night.
With military precision the army, funeral home and church worked together to make the visitation an open and smooth-running event.
Pastor Mark Waltz told NewsCenter 16 the church has never hosted a funeral for a soldier killed during active duty.
"It's a real honor," said Waltz.
Granger Community Church can accommodate over a thousand people, Waltz said they were ready and able to welcome anyone who wished to honor Williams' and his family.
"It'll be a time for conversation and visiting, sharing memories and paying respects," Waltz added.
Photos of Williams, surrounded by patriot floral arrangements and American flags, created a backdrop for the casket.
Meanwhile, outside the visitation, Patriot Guard Riders once again stood in silent solidarity with Williams' family.
"We want to honor Jesse by having our people outside with American flags" said Patriot Guard Rider, Russ Bauer, "it is a hard situation, the family has had a lot of love and the community has wrapped their arms around them."
Waltz said the church received dozens of donated flowers for the ceremony and visitation, adding that the outpouring of support was incredible.
Granger Community Church has special meaning for the family. Williams' mother and step father are members, and Williams' would also attend services there when he was home.