The body of an Elkhart soldier, killed in a tragic helicopter crash before Christmas, was returned to his hometown Friday morning.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Lee Williams, 30, died Tuesday, Dec. 17, when a Black Hawk transport helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan. Six soldiers were killed and one survived the crash.
Williams’ body was returned to American soil last week; however it was kept at the U.S. military base in Dover, Delaware until Friday.
Family and friends received the flag-cloaked casket at South Bend Airport just after 9:00 a.m. Lines of Patriot Guard Riders holding American flags were among those welcoming the fallen hero.
“The ones that are closer to home always hit closer to home,” said Brett Tracy, member of the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, “unfortunately, Northern Indiana has been rocked by a lot of K.I.A’s in the last several years,” by K.I.A’s, Tracy means “killed in action” deaths.
Williams’ mother and father, Debbie and Sam Passerallo are both Patriot Guard Riders. For the past several years the pair attended missions and funerals across the region to offer their support. The motorcyclists’ outward displays of support tie the Passerallo’s closer to the organization.
“We feel for our son, we’re so very proud of him. Our hearts are busted in a million pieces, we believe he’s part of God’s army now,” said Williams’ mother.
U.S. Senator Joseph Donnelly (D-IN) was among the crowd receiving Williams’ body at the airport. The senator said he represented not just Hoosiers, but all Americans.
“He’s on the front line defending our country and making sure we have the freedoms we have,” Donnelly added.
The procession of motorcycles and vehicles traveled from South Bend to Billing’s Funeral Home in Elkhart as people lined the sidewalks and overpasses along the route.
Angela Felder, friend of Williams’ family said she thinks it’s sad it takes a tragic death to remind people that there are still soldiers fighting overseas, “I agree people forget about them, they need to open up their eyes and realize they’re fighting for us every single day.”
Williams’ mother said her son will be remembered as a man with great discipline, a loving father with a heart of gold. He joined the military almost eight years ago for computer reasons, but according to his mother he fell in love with it.
The family is collecting photos and memorabilia to set aside for Williams’ daughter, Madison , so she too can share in his legacy.
A visitation is scheduled for next Thursday at Granger Community Church in Mishawaka. Williams will be buried the following day in Rice Cemetary.