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A soldier's solemn, honorable return home

The bikers gathered in a circle outside the funeral home Wednesday night. Some had beards and bellies — looser frames than when many of them were young and serving their country.

They bowed their heads and prayed.

A man in a leather jacket asked God to watch over the escort from the funeral home in Clearwater to Tampa International Airport and back. He asked to ease the family's pain, and he thanked young people everywhere who leave home for overseas and return in cargo holds.

"Amen," they all said.

An older woman walked near and disappeared into the arms of Thomas Brown, the assistant state captain for the Patriot Guard Riders. After the embrace, she thanked him.

"It's an honor for us to be here," Brown said.

The family of Spc. Justin Kyle Adams climbed into a black hearse. Police escorts flipped on their lights, followed by the riders on motorcycles. The procession headed into the night.

They rode staggered, with American flags secured to their machines, a flapping line stretching over the bridge toward the airport.

Delta flight 1051 soared around 23,000 feet, somewhere south of Atlanta and north of Jacksonville. It carried 21-year-old Adams of Largo.

Adams had always wanted to join the Army and he couldn't wait to serve his country. He enlisted a couple years after high school, and was deployed to South Korea in March.

Adams' Humvee crashed in South Korea nearly two weeks ago while he was conducting reconnaissance for an upcoming training mission near the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex in Yeoncheon, South Korea. Adams and another soldier were killed.

Adams' plane landed at 10:36 p.m. The Patriot Guard Riders parked 48 motorcycles in a waiting lot, and the family rode in a hearse onto the tarmac.

Although no one could see the honor guard greet the family, many knew its ritual. Kim Allison had witnessed it at MacDill Air Force Base in March. But back then it was her weeping from behind tinted windows, watching soldiers in pressed uniforms unload her 21-year-old son.

The Patriot Guard Riders had been there, too. Brown later handed her a plaque in commemoration of her son's sacrifice.

Allison heard about the plan to escort Adams from the airport through a network of "Gold Star Mothers." The military lets families hang a blue star in their home's window for each son who enlists, and a gold one for each killed. Allison had four sons; now she has three blue stars and one gold. This was her first ride.

At 11:19 p.m., the dormant motorcycles stirred into a low rumble and then into a growling chorus as they followed the hearse back onto the road.

When they again arrived at the funeral home, the riders dismounted and stood at attention. They lined the hearse in a circle, many calling back the rigid salutes they'd known years before.

Six men in uniform stepped in unison. The hearse doors opened. An American flag covered the casket. The six men hefted Adams through the funeral home's white doors and commanded, "Order, huh!"

They filed out.

Then the riders shouted their own command, "Patriot Guard, stand down!"

A soldier's solemn, honorable return home 12/05/13 [Last modified: Thursday, December 5, 2013 10:10pm]
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