An emotional funeral ceremony took place Friday, Jan. 3, for a soldier killed in Southern Afghanistan.
On Dec. 17, Staff Sgt. Jesse Lee Williams was among six soldiers that died when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed overseas. Over the past two weeks Williams' family and friends have been on an emotional journey that culminated in Friday's service.
The funeral started at 1:00 p.m. at Granger Community Church, the "church home" for Williams' mother, step-father, sisters and himself.
According to the church's pastor, Mark Waltz, seating was arranged to accommodate nearly 1,500 people, however, not all the seats were occupied for the service.
Williams' casket was cloaked in an American flag and surrounded by red, white and blue flower bouquets, photographs, a pair of combat boots and a medal for military service.
Inside his casket, pastor Waltz said there was an autographed football from the players at the University of Michigan. It was a last-minute addition for the die-hard fan.
With military-like precision the service allowed for prayer and memories to be shared. U.S. Senator Joseph Donnelly (D-IN) took the podium to graciously thank all military men and women for their service.
"I think of him, deployment, after deployment, after deployment," said the senator, "possibly the most dangerous mission, in the most dangerous part of the country, in the most dangerous country in the world he said 'let me take the responsibility, let me step up.'"
U.S. Representative Jackie Walorski was also present to give the family hugs and offer a few kind words.
But it wasn't until three of Williams' close friends and comrades took the stage to talk about their favorite memories and moments with the deceased.
Sergeant First Class Janice Pleasant served alongside Williams in Afghanistan. She teared up as she spoke about Williams' loving obsession with his daughter, Madison, and his parents. The loss of his life affected not just his immediate family but the family he created while serving overseas.
On the morning of Dec. 17, Pleasant remembered Williams walking out the door, making the "two-peace" sign with his hand, and silently letting his fellow soldiers know he would be back. He never returned.
Private Josh Sizemore spoke second, choking up as he talked about Williams' role as a brother and a friend, "I will fill those size 13 boots. Them big, big boots."
A funeral procession left Granger Community Church once the ceremony concluded and solemnly made its way to Rice Cemetery in Elkhart.