ST. PETERSBURG — Cedric Gordon spent many days alone in his living room, hoping he would never see a stranger in uniform walking to his door.
As the father of a deployed soldier, it could only mean something bad.
But Gordon, St. Petersburg's assistant police chief, tried to put it out of his mind. He learned to comfort himself.
His baby served in an elite unit. People were praying for her. What were the chances she wouldn't make it home in December from her first overseas assignment?
On Oct. 13, Army Spc. Brittany Bria Gordon, an Army intelligence analyst, was killed when a suicide bomber attacked her unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan, becoming the first female soldier from Tampa Bay to die in the recent wars.
The 2006 St. Petersburg High graduate, the only daughter of Cedric Frank Gordon and Brenda Thompson Gordon of St. Petersburg, was 24.
"I kept asking God: Why Brittany? Why my daughter? Why my baby girl?" Gordon told a standing-room only crowd gathered for his daughter's funeral Saturday at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church. "But I know that knowing God is better than knowing why."
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It was hard for people not to like Brittany Gordon.
"Most of us, when we go through life, are looking for the real deal," said former St. Petersburg police Chief Goliath Davis, a close family friend. "She was the real deal."
Brittany Gordon was fluent in French and played the piano and alto saxophone. She played soccer for several years and ran long-distance. At St. Petersburg High, she was captain of the girl's basketball team and the manager of the boy's basketball team.
She also had a special role at family functions.
"She was the official 'taster,' " said her uncle, retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Gordon, Jr., recalling his niece's notorious appetite.
Her parents didn't have to push her to become independent. She was like that from the beginning, they said.
When she decided to go into the military in 2010, she threw herself into training. In order to make a weight goal, Brittany Gordon exercised two hours a day, twice a day — even while working 12-hour shifts at an assisted living facility.
When she graduated from basic training, her dad met her at the airport. He tried to carry the three large duffle bags she had brought, but she wouldn't let him.
"She said, 'Dad, I got it,' " he said. "That was Brittany."
Mourners watched as a collage of pictures of the young woman looped on a projection screen behind her flag-draped coffin. Army officials presented her family with a few of her honors: the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Combat Action Badge.
They described the young woman as a "true American hero," who was "uncommonly brave and uncommonly kind." She was buried Saturday in Thonotosassa.
"We as a nation, we need to think long and hard about the consequences of war," her father told the mourners, which included Mayor Bill Foster, the City Council and U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. "Brittany, maybe she died to bring us all together. Maybe she died protecting her fellow man. Maybe she died so we could all love each other more."
Gordon and her father last spoke to each other two days before she was killed. The 34-minute conversation was filled with happy talk of family and jokes about Cedric Gordon's plans to retire from the Police Department next year.
Then Brittany got serious, Cedric Gordon said. She got quiet.
"She said, 'Dad, I've been going on missions,' " he said.
Gordon said he asked his daughter how she felt about that, a situation those in the military refer to as going "outside the wire."
"She said, 'Dad, I don't mind. I've been volunteering.' Then she said, 'Dad, I love you,' and I said, 'I love you more.' "
Gordon, who went to Miami for the weekend, expected to hear from his daughter the following Saturday morning. When she didn't call, he figured she'd gotten busy. Later that evening, an Army official called. They were at his door in St. Petersburg and said they needed to speak with him about his daughter.
"I have been shaken to my core," Gordon said. "But I know that he is a mighty God. He is a mighty, mighty God."
Gordon said he takes comfort in the community's support. But not the six words he heard when his daughter's remains were returned to the United States. Those words, he will never forget. "On behalf of a grateful nation …"
Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.