Saturday, August 20, 2011

A heartfelt welcome home at airport

It was raining when the private jet carrying Army Spc. 4 Patrick Lay's body taxied toward Rectrix Aviation at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport Saturday.

"The angels are crying," someone said.

Little by little a crowd had gathered at the terminal's entrance off 15th Street East to welcome home a boy most of us probably didn't know. They parked their cars across the street up and down the block and hurried across under umbrellas.

Lay, who was killed in Afghanistan Aug. 11, was one of our own and that  brought people to pay their respects to the 21-year-old Braden River High grad.

There were families with children and couples and older women with little American flags.

One family unfurled a big flag where the driveway intersects with the street.

There were also Patriot Guard Riders and the honor guard from American Legion Kirby Stewart Post 24.

A high school JROTC unit, too.

Near 1:40 p.m., the somber procession bringing Lay and his family to Life Covenant Church off State Road 70 got started.

Everyone stood at attention, some covering their hearts, some saluting. Others wiped away tears.

Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube's black SUV led the way, its lights flashing, followed by a motorcycle escort from MCSO and the Bradenton Police Department. Then came a series of limousines with family members and the hearse, followed by family friends in two other vehicles with flags.

The Patriot Guard Riders went after them.

The procession, emergency lights winking and flashing along 15 Street East, was on its way.

Slowly, the crowd dissipated, everyone lost in thought.

The rain had stopped.   

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