Residents come out to pay tribute to soldier

Sunday, July 14, 2013 7:32 PM
Last updated Monday, July 15, 2013 2:04 PM
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Members of the Patriot Guard Ri­ders watched through a chain-link fence Sunday morning as soldiers unloaded a casket draped with an American flag at Augusta Regional Airport.

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A hearse carrying the casket of Spc. Hilda Clayton is escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders to Poteet Funeral Home on Peach Orchard Road.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
A hearse carrying the casket of Spc. Hilda Clayton is escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders to Poteet Funeral Home on Peach Orchard Road.

Roughly 15 minutes later, the motorcyclists cranked their engines, ready to escort family and friends of Army Spc. Hilda Clayton on their 5-mile journey to a funeral home.

Clayton, an Augusta soldier, was killed in a July 2 training accident in Afghanistan.

“It was such an impressive sight,” said Sean Gillen, the general manager of Poteet Funeral Homes on Peach Orchard Road. “Driving in the middle of that was emotional, and I’ve been doing this for years.”

Veterans and well-wishers dotted the sides of the route to pay their respects to the Army photographer, who died after a mortar weapons system failed during an Afghan army training exercise.

“I was so surprised to see the people lining the streets,” said Evelyn Suarez, Clayton’s mother. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. People that didn’t even even know her came out to help support her. If she could see them now, she would be happy.”

Near the entrance of the airport, Karl and Susan Keene sat on the tailgate of their truck waiting for the procession to pass. An American flag was pinned to the side of the truck facing the road.

“Freedom isn’t free,” said Karl Keene, a retired Navy electrician who lives in Augusta. “Didn’t know her. Didn’t know the family. But this is the least we could do to honor a soldier.”

As the motorcade turned onto Peach Orchard Road, men removed their caps and children waved miniature flags. Rain came down in a slow drizzle, but the crowd remain steadfast until the detail group of uniformed soldiers entered the funeral home.

Suarez said she saw men salute and a child with a sign honoring Clayton as the procession passed by. After the ride ended, Suarez said the girl gave her the poster.

With less than a year left in Clayton’s tour in Afghanistan, Suarez said she was looking forward to welcoming her daughter home with a warm embrace and celebration.

“I wish it was that way,” she said. “But I want to thank everyone who was out there and who supported me when my baby came home. Everybody has been so nice.”

Poteet Funeral Homes will hold a public visitation from noon to 8 p.m. Friday. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Good Shepherd Chapel at Fort Gordon. A graveside service will be held immediately afterward at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Augusta.

Comments (8) Add comment
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GnipGnop
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GnipGnop 07/15/13 - 10:36 am
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Bless you and your family....

your duty is done...rest in peace soldier let us carry on....

Darby
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Darby 07/15/13 - 11:31 am
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She has served...

We can serve by not letting this thing rest until we know what went wrong and making certain that the particular chain of events that led to her death are never allowed to repeat.

It's bad enough to lose a soldier in combat, but that is understandable. Military training is by nature risky, but we can lower the death rate there, just as we can in battle.

resident
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resident 07/15/13 - 01:20 pm
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She Gave All and we should all respect this

It may not have been what people call combat death but it does not matter some of us served and came to our career end with minor issues , some with none, she came to her finally by God calling her home. She gave all!

@Gnip Well said!!! "your duty is done...rest in peace soldier let us carry on..."

Darby
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Darby 07/15/13 - 03:01 pm
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"She Gave All and we should all respect this"

And I think everyone does.... On the other hand, if we are to truly honor her passing, we should make certain that it never happens again.

She was a photographer. She certainly had nothing to do with whatever went wrong.

On the other hand, I believe that ALL accidents are preventable. That's why we call them accidents.

corgimom
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corgimom 07/15/13 - 04:20 pm
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Please, let that family

Please, let that family grieve in peace, without further adding to their sorrow.

The Army already knows what went wrong, they will share that privately with the families. As it should be.

Let it rest, Darby.

Darby
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Darby 07/15/13 - 05:08 pm
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"Let it rest, Darby."

Sorry Corgimom, but you apparently have no idea as to how these investigations are carried out.

I seriously doubt that the Army has completed even a preliminary examination of the facts. In all probability, it could be six months or a year or more before the final report is rendered.

Having lived that life for 27 years and having been the investigating officer on a number of occasions, I can tell you that there are often politics involved to a degree that you could never imagine.

There are careers that could be damaged or destroyed by the results of the inquiry. The pressure to cover up and scapegoat is enormous.

This young soldier and her family deserve a full and complete airing of the truth. If you believe knowing the facts will increase her family's grief you are sadly mistaken. They can't hurt anymore than they are already. I know from experience.

Knowing will not make them feel better or grieve less. It will give them closure.

Until you admonished me to "let it rest" I had said all I had planned to say.

Unless you want to lecture me some more, I'm finished with the subject.

corgimom
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corgimom 07/15/13 - 10:12 pm
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Darby, I am very familiar

Darby, I am very familiar with how the Army conducts investigations.

And my concern is for her family.

Let that mother and husband grieve in peace, without further troubling their minds. They have enough to contend with right now. They will decide for themselves what they want or need. You can't decide for them what is best for them, or what brings them closure. Nobody can choose that for someone else, everybody handles grief and loss differently.

Please, let it go.

Darby
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Darby 07/15/13 - 11:32 pm
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As I told you, I had made my last statement...

As I said in my last post...."Unless you want to lecture me some more, I'm finished with the subject."

You obviously can't or won't let go. As for me deciding what is good for anyone else.. I haven't attempted to do that and I'm relatively certain that you know it. You really should stop trying to read my mind because so far, you're doing a really terrible job.

Perhaps you didn't notice but we are commenting on a news story. Nothing in the article was directed anywhere but to the public at large.

I am concerned about the Army that I devoted 27 years of my life to and it's conduct in the aftermath of a tragedy such as this. I am concerned that it may happen again as I have seen so many times before. I desire to see the Army stronger and safer for all who choose that mission in life. (Yes, it's not just a job, it's a mission.) Sticking our collective heads in the sand means living with the status quo.

Unless you have conducted these investigations (as I have) or as a commanding officer had to write letters of condolence to survivors and next of kin, (as I have) then I would really prefer to read no more insults from you to me on the subject.

Particularly if you are as concerned as you claim to be about the family.

However, if you have some compelling need to get in the last word, go ahead. If you don't use it to insult me again, or preach to me about things you obviously don't understand, I will not answer.

If you do attack me again, or continue to impugn my integrity, I will respond as politely as I possibly can.

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