The hearse eased out of NewCentury Air Center onto the two-lane country road, a 20-minute drive to the Olathe funeral home.
That’s when Army Chief Warrant Officer Mike Walsh first saw them.
A family, holding flags and waiting in their gravel driveway, stood up. Folks in pickup truck beds stood, too. A farmer stopped his tractor in his soybean field, an American flag nearby. Several truck drivers froze next to their parked semi-trailers, hands over hearts. Silent salutes.
Walsh’s vision blurred behind tears. The veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was on a sacred mission: Stay with the casket.
Army Spc. Spencer Duncan, 21, was coming home.
Duncan was killed when a Chinook helicopter was shot down Aug. 6 in Afghanistan. His body arrived at the airport near Gardner just before 9 a.m. Tuesday.
White-gloved hands transferred the coffin silently to a shiny hearse. Duncan’s parents and two younger brothers watched.
Walsh was chosen to bring Duncan home from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware because he was a fellow member of Company B, 7th/158th Aviation Regiment. His daughter was a close friend of Duncan’s, and Walsh mentored him when he went to Olathe South High School.
Emails the night before had raced to spread the message: Stand for Spencer by lining a two-mile section of 151st Street between Ridgeview and Black Bob roads. Hundreds of U.S. flags were planted in the early morning.
Already crowds were waiting there, five rows deep. But out by Gardner? That wasn’t expected.
The police motorcade rumbled from the hangar area, some 45 bikes, red and blue lights flashing, making the turn onto U.S. 56. Helicopters were whipping the air above.
Behind the hearse, three vehicles carried Duncan’s family and closest friends. Another group of motorcycles, the Patriot Guard with U.S. flags streaming behind every rider, some 75 in all, followed.
The hearse rolled on, passing a McDonald’s in Gardner, where traffic on Old U.S. 56 was stopped. Drivers pulled onto the shoulder, making an impromptu parking lot, so they too could stand.
Honoring Duncan along 151st Street in Olathe were the old, the young, the middle-aged, men and women, girls and boys, making the 30-second passing of the hearse a moment to remember.
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