Kristie Carlson stood on a strip of sidewalk in front of the downtown Greyhound bus station Wednesday afternoon and unfurled her flag.
The rumble of motorcycle engines hadn't yet reached her ears.
Carlson, 50, scanned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N, waiting to catch a glimpse of police cruisers escorting the body of Army Spc. Brittany Gordon from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa to her hometown of St. Petersburg.
Hundreds of people around Tampa Bay lined the 30-mile motorcade route.
Carlson drove up from Bradenton.
"I've got to show my support for the family, just like it was shown to me," said Carlson, 50, whose nephew, a Marine, was killed in August 2009 in Afghanistan. "It breaks my heart every time I hear of a soldier being killed over there. . . . I'm in awe of these kids who have the courage to go."
Brittany Gordon, 24, joined the military in 2010. She was on her first deployment to Afghanistan when she was killed by a suicide bomber on Oct. 13. She was to come home in December.
Gordon is the first female soldier from the area to die in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She is the daughter of Brenda Thompson Gordon and Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon.
"That young lady served for us," said Deloris Broughton, 68, who sat with a red rose in her hand near the St. Petersburg Police Department. "She was trying to help herself, and us. . . . I feel for the parents and the people who knew her."
Gordon was among a group delivering furniture to an intelligence office in eastern Afghanistan when she was attacked. An Afghan intelligence officer wore a suicide vest beneath his uniform and detonated it shortly after the delegation arrived.
"It's crazy," said Dan Cornelius, 52, of St. Petersburg, who clutched his battered baseball cap to his chest as the white hearse passed. "It's just a shame. . . . It's a war we're never going to win."
Others who gathered said they didn't have a strong opinion for or against the war. At Cafe Ten-O-One about 30 diners and employees interrupted their lunch to go outside. Owner Frank Edgar handed out small flags for people to wave.
"It was sad, but the way they presented it was very nicely done," he said.
As word spread that the motorcade was approaching downtown, city workers began walking toward police headquarters.
Firefighters hoisted a giant American flag between two ladder trucks. Employees poured out of the building and stood alongside City Council members and Mayor Bill Foster.
Phyllis Coster, who works in the city's marketing department, said she came to show respect for the family, whom she knows.
"It's just the right thing to do," she said. "I have a niece in Afghanistan. . . . She's about the same age."
Jeanette Bright, who has worked as a victim's advocate at the Police Department for 27 years, said her heart dropped when she heard of Gordon's death.
"It's so hard to believe she's gone," she said. "But I really think she made a difference in her short time here."
Carlson, whose 26-year-old son is training to be a military pilot, said she hopes people never forget Gordon — or all the fallen soldiers who came before her.
"The war is still going on," she said. "And these kids getting killed aren't nobodies. They are somebody's son or daughter. Somebody's friend."
Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.