The bodies of six American soldiers, killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, are scheduled to be returned home Thursday night. Among those fallen heroes is Elkhart native, Staff Sgt. Jesse Lee Williams, 30.
Williams’ family traveled to a military base in Dover, Delaware where dignified transfers take place and deceased soldiers and their personal effects are returned to their loved ones.
A meeting with Billings Funeral Home in Elkhart to plan the funeral and visitation was postponed once the family left for the east coast, but the director of the home said they are gearing up nonetheless for a funeral filled with tradition and honor.
“Not only do you have the thoughts and the emotional states of the family to look after, but you have the emotional needs of a community as well,” said Jo Johnston of Billings Funeral Home.
According to Johnston, their phones have been ringing off the hooks with people asking when and where the funeral and visitation will be so they can pay their respects.
The funeral for a soldier killed during active duty is enhanced by other active duty soldiers serving as pall bearers and other key roles in the service. Johnston said there are a lot of moving parts and the important thing is to make sure the family is given a dignified goodbye and that everything runs smoothly.
Motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders attend funerals for fallen soldiers across the country. In this case, the PGR has a special connection to the family as both of Williams’ parents, Sam and Debbie, have riders for years.
“We’re going to be there for Debbie and Sam long after the funeral is over and everyone else has gone home and support them, and remember they have the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” said Russ Bauer, captain of the PGR in northern Indiana.
Bauer said hundreds, if not a thousand riders will come from neighboring states to escort Williams’ casket as it arrives in Michiana, makes it way to the visitation and eventually makes its way to the cemetery for burial.
The funeral home said it will likely meet with Williams' family this weekend to plan the details. However, with Christmas coming up next week and Williams' release from the base up in the air, the exact date of the funeral remains unknown.
Stay with NewsCenter 16 as we continue to provide updates on the services.