It’s hard to snap a picture when you are wiping tears from your eyes.
On Sunday, I stood with hundreds of people outside Rock Springs Baptist Church. Many of them told me their stories, as we waited for the funeral services for Sgt. 1st Class Brad Thomas to begin.
They had come out of respect for a young man whose life had been tragically cut short and I was there to tell a story.
As journalists, we are taught to be unbiased and unemotional. That’s a hard task when you see hundreds of people reaching out to a family they’ve never met before — grown men weeping, children saluting, and mothers wringing their hands or tightly gripping the hand of the child standing next to them.
Beautiful flags of red, white and blue flown proudly by men who once defended our country, but now protect the families of fallen soldiers.
Sharply dressed men and women in uniform. Messages of love, and peace, and patriotism written upon signs in the crowd. Random acts of kindness by strangers, who offered up bottles of water, an opportunity to step into the shade or quietly passed through groups to say that they could step inside the hall of the church to cool down for a moment.
An overwhelming sense of pride swelled among the crowd on one of the hottest days of summer, as these men, women and children gathered to mourn the loss of an American hero.
It was a scene I would take pictures of throughout the day — the uniforms, the signs, the people, the random acts of kindness.
As I walked among them I heard bits of their conversations. “I was in Afghanistan in 2004.” “My husband is deployed.” “Freedom isn’t free.” “Thank you for your service.”
And then, silence.
Solemnly they watched as the casket was taken into the church, as family members arrived and as the church doors were tightly closed.
With flags still flying the Patriot Guard would begin preparations for the next part of their journey.
Some would stay behind to escort the soldier’s body and his family, while others armed with flags would line the driveway of the cemetery.
Families dotted the rural drive along Highway 135 to Nine Forks Baptist Church. Some sat in driveways, along the side of the road or huddled under tents.
Law enforcement officers sat ready to block intersections for the funeral motorcade.
Supporters along Earls Bridge Road, chatted with friends and neighbors. Drivers hurriedly found parking spaces and their occupants a spot along the roadway.
A blast of a police car’s siren and the scene was frozen in time.
Along the funeral procession’s route, the hearse would stop across from the old Dacusville School and the family would step outside of the family cars to watch as members of the South Carolina National Guard, with great care and grace, transferred the soldier’s casket to a caisson.
Drawn by two white horses, the flag-draped coffin passed.
And the tears came almost instantly.