BROOKSVILLE — Abrill Edwards took the stage and started an a cappella gospel tribute to her fallen brother, Army Spc. Clarence Williams III.
Because of who you are,
I give you glory
Because of who you are
I give you praise
Because of who you are,
I will lift my voice and say
Lord I worship you,
because of who you are
The organ and drums came in softly at first, then reached a crescendo as Edwards belted out the climax of the hymn.
At that point, Williams' mother, Talisa, lifted herself up from the first pew of the Grace World Outreach Church sanctuary and outstretched her arms, prompting others to get up, too. At that point, the solemn memorial Tuesday evening looked and sounded like a revival.
Friends and family knew that Williams, a 23-year-old man of strong faith who read his Bible daily, would have liked it that way.
An estimated 500 people filed past a row of American flags held by the Patriot Guard Riders and into the domed church on the State Road 50 bypass to pay their respects.
The 2008 Hernando High School graduate was killed July 8 in Afghanistan, along with five other members of his battalion, when their armored vehicle ran over a roadside bomb. Among them was another bay area soldier, 31-year-old Staff Sgt. Ricardo Seija, 31, of Tampa.
Seija's body arrived at MacDill Air Force Base around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, and hundreds of people lined Bayshore Boulevard as a procession carried his flag-draped coffin to a private service at Gonzalez Funeral Home on N Dale Mabry Highway.
At Williams' service in Brooksville, the uniforms of the Army, the Hernando Sheriff's Office and the Florida Highway Patrol dominated the first several pews. Williams' father, Clarence Jr., is a corporal in the Highway Patrol. On Tuesday, he wore a tie and blue dress shirt with a crisp white collar and cuffs.
In front of the stage, near a wall of bouquets, sat two large photos. One showed a stern-faced Williams posing for a military portrait. The other captured the Williams friends remembered Tuesday, the one dressed in fatigues but almost always flashing a bright smile.
Williams had a laugh you could never forget, recalled Hernando sheriff's Deputy Christopher Owens, a longtime friend. Sometimes, Owens told the crowd, he can still hear it.
Owens and Williams played flag football together, and Williams would show up to practice wearing the team shirt, shorts, and yellow dress socks to match his Chevy Cavalier. He'd keep his dress shoes on until he switched them for cleats.
Williams often talked about following his father's path and joining the Highway Patrol. Raised in Brooksville, he enlisted in the Army to see the world. The last time Owens spoke to Williams, though, he talked about applying at the Sheriff's Office so the two could work side by side.
"He would want us to remember the good things and not to be sad," Owens said, his voice breaking. "He is at peace, and one of God's angels watching over us."
Williams loved to fish and hunt and ride around in big trucks, recalled Josh Parnell, another childhood friend.
Cody Samson, a 2009 Hernando High graduate, watched the service with other friends of Williams. Beforehand, Samson recalled going out with Williams in December, a couple of months before he deployed. Williams had a ball that night, dancing and flirting with girls at a Tampa nightclub.
Samson figured they would celebrate in the same fashion when Williams came home at the end of July. He didn't want to think about the chance Williams wouldn't return.
Toward the end of the service, Pastor Chistopher Stokes of Mount Pedro Church in Micanopy, where the Williams family attends Sunday services, asked the crowd to stand.
"Give some praise for brother Clarence," Stokes said.
The organ began to ring out, and the people kept clapping.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or email@example.com.