News 12 6 o'clock / Sunday, July 14, 2013
SPC Hilda Clayton
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Traffic on Tobacco Road moved slowly the morning the body of Army Spc. Hilda Clayton made its way to the funeral home.
"I love my country," said Ryan Cook.
Cook and his family don't know Clayton or her family, but they feel they need to come show support for one reason.
"I had a chance to stand up for our troops, and I will do it any time I get a chance," he said.
Other families joined the Cooks in standing by a busy road to show respect to a stranger who is now their hero. Cook says this is his first time doing this, and the feeling was priceless.
"You know, I'm shaking -- I couldn't think of anything else better to do," he said.
Friends and supporters gathered outside as the family was visiting with Clayton's body for the first time since the fatal accident in Afghanistan on July 2.
"Always funny. Full of life. Always joyous, happy," said Angela Mulkey of Clayton.
Mulkey is a teacher at Augusta Tech and taught Clayton. She says she can still remember the day Clayton told her she joined the Army.
"Very excited. Very energetic. Her eyes lit up. I knew that's what she wanted to do -- that was her calling," Mulkey said.
As the motorcycles outside began their journey back home, inside Clayton's family was preparing for another journey -- one they really didn't want to plan for.
"The family is very emotional. You have to realize that obviously you would want to welcome your son or daughter home walking off a plane, as opposed to coming off the plane in a casket. So, it's very emotional for the family," said the funeral director, who talked with the Clayton's mother.
So, as the family leaves to go grieve at home, the Cooks want them to know one thing.
"People out here do care about them. Even if we don't know anybody we all need to be together," they said.
The funeral home says everyone is invited to a visitation on Friday. It will be held from noon to 8 p.m. at Poteet Funeral home at 3465 Peach Orchard Rd. The funeral will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Fort Gordon, but they still haven't decided if the public will be allowed in.