COLUMBIA — Sitting in the shade of First Baptist Church on Thursday morning, congregant Sue Hammann remembered when Spc. Sterling Wyatt was born.
It was church tradition to bring a rose in a vase and place it on the church altar. For Wyatt's birth, his grandmother brought a sterling silver vase to First Baptist Church, Hammann said.
It's the same church where Wyatt's funeral will be held Saturday. Wyatt, 21, died July 11 in Afghanistan, and his body returned home Thursday morning. It was transported from the Columbia Regional Airport to Memorial Funeral Home, stopping by the family home on Shepard Boulevard along the way.
Hammann and a small crowd of others waited outside First Baptist Church to show support for the family as the motorcade passed by. They held American flags in their hands and held back tears behind sunglasses. They recalled what Wyatt was like growing up.
"He knew every nook and cranny of the church," member and friend of the family Suzy Lee said, "Every crawl space."
Lee's husband, Steve, stood next to her and remembered how his son and Wyatt went on a mission to New Orleans to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
"He sweat, sweat, sweat and never complained a bit," he said.
"He was always looking to make things better," Suzy Lee said.
Beth Hardy didn't know Wyatt or his family well, but waited to greet the procession in one of Hammann's lawn chairs in the shade.
"Somebody's child has passed away, you just have to show support," she said. "We have our freedoms because of it."
First, a motorcade of police officers approached the church from the east, and Hardy, Hammann and the Lees gravitated to the edge of the road with a tide of fellow onlookers.
Next, a procession of motorcyclists known as the Patriot Guard Riders rumbled by. Their presence stretched from the Daniel Boone City Building to South College Avenue.
At last, the hearse paused in front of the church, carrying the body of a soldier many in the crowd knew as a little boy. Tears welled up in Hammann's eyes, and her lower lip quivered. Others sobbed and brought crumpled tissues to their face.
Wyatt's family followed in another vehicle, and they smiled and waved at the gathering.
The procession traveled west on Broadway, and the traffic returned to normal.
Hammann's husband, Ken, came over and hugged her as they walked back to the sidewalk.
Standing with other teary friends in a circle, Suzy Lee took some deep breaths.
"That was right," she said.
"As it should be."
Supervising editor is Dan Burley.