CHERRYVILLE Evelyn Parrish felt drawn to downtown Cherryville Monday morning.
A fallen U.S. soldier was coming home the 2,000th killed during the 11-year-old Afghanistan conflict, according to the New York Times.
Parrish didnt know 21-year-old Army paratrooper James Justice, who died Aug. 16 from combat wounds suffered in Afghanistan.
But her brother was a Navy veteran who served in the Persian Gulf. She knew first-hand about fears stirred by phone calls that might bring bad news.
This could have been my brother, said Parrish, 44, as she waited for the honor procession escorting Justices body. Im doing what I should be doing. I had to come.
Hundreds stood or sat along Cherryvilles Main Street Monday morning. They brought babies and pets, cameras and cups of coffee. They held signs reading thank you. Many carried American flags, large and small.
Two fire department trucks extended ladders to form an arch of honor with a huge American flag over the street.
Led by the Patriot Guard motorcycle group, the procession started at the Shelby Airport where Justices body arrived at 9:10 a.m. From there, the escort went to Cherryville, passing the home of Justices father.
Along the 35-to-40-mile route through Cleveland and Gaston counties people stood in front yards, church parking lots and crossroads, waving flags and holding hands over their hearts.
Oncoming vehicles pulled to the side as the procession wound through the rural countryside ending at Harris Funeral Home in Kings Mountain.
Justice and his wife were members of Kings Mountains New Beginnings Church of Jesus Christ, where funeral services will be held Wednesday at 3 p.m. Visitation is Tuesday from 4 until 8 p.m. at the church.
Burial with full military honors will be in Mountain Rest Cemetery in Kings Mountain.
Justice joined the Army at age 18 and family members said it was the culmination of a longtime dream. About a month ago, he left for his first tour in Afghanistan.
According to the Department of Defense, Justice died at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, of injuries suffered Aug. 14 from enemy small-arms fire in Wardak province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle in Vicenza, Italy.
The New York Times reported that with the death of Justice, the U.S. military reached 2,000 dead in Afghanistan.
The Army awarded him a posthumous Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart.
The crowd in downtown Cherryville on Monday represented a community committed to honoring a local hero.
Jennifer Bankhead, 45, who is related to Justices wife, said, Hes a hero in a lot of ways in my eyes.
At a young age, Justice took on the responsibility of a father with three daughters and did a good job, she said. He was very spiritual, very religious. He was much more mature than your typical 21-year-old.
She said Justices family was struggling theyre having a hard time over his death.
Doretha Patterson came to honor Justice because her daughter had been in the Army and served in Korea and Iraq.
I strongly believe in supporting our men and women in the miliary, said Patterson, 51, of Cherryville.
If it was my child, Id want people to come out and show support. I didnt know (Justice). But I felt like he was one of mine. I dont care whose child he was. He was out there fighting for our country.
Heidi Heglar, 44, brought her 5-year-old-son Hayden to watch the procession, hoping it would make a lasting impression.
She comes from a family with strong military connections: a father in Korea, and a great-grandfather and uncle who served in World War II.
Its in my blood, said Heglar. Ill never stop supporting our soldiers.
As Emily Rhyne, 47, waited, she thought of her son, a Marine serving in Afghanistan, and Justices family.
Im thinking about that mom and dad and their loss, she said, looking down Main Street. How they wont get to hug their son again.
Flashing lights and the rumble of 200 motorcycles signaled the approaching escort. As the vehicles rolled by, drivers and passengers could be seen wiping tears.
A silence fell over the crowd.
When the hearse passed 82nd Airborne Division veteran Rick Allen, he snapped to attention and saluted.
One paratrooper to another, said Allen, a 56-year-old Cherryville resident. I wanted to say thank you. And that youre in our thoughts and prayers.