Most of the people who paid tribute to U.S. Army Sgt. Steve McCoy didn't know him nor did they attend his funeral in Thomson last Thursday. They paid him respect, nevertheless. The reason: Sgt. McCoy was considered a hero - a man who gave everything for his country during war time - his life.
Hundreds of business people and patrons lined the sides of roadways leading from Beggs Funeral Home in Thomson to Savannah Valley Memorial Gardens. Others stopped their cars and trucks along the roadways. Some apparently had heard that Sgt. McCoy was to be buried that day, while others just happened to be passing along at the time.
The funeral procession was led by 60 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a nationally-known motorcycle group, recognized for attending hundreds of military funerals every year in America. Many of them carried American flags that waved in honor of the fallen soldier from Fort Stewart.
The black hearse carried the flag-draped coffin of Sgt. McCoy. Family and friends of the warrior soldier followed.
It was a day that will live on in the memory of many who witnessed the solemn occasion.
"I don't think I've ever been as honored as I was to see the citizens of Thomson on the route from the funeral home to the gravesite with the spontaneous acts of respect at every cross road," said Warrenton Mayor Tony Mimbs. "It made me feel proud to be an American."
Although Sgt. McCoy lived in Moultrie, "Steve belonged to Warren County, too," said Mayor Mimbs. Sgt. McCoy's parents, Sam and Pam McCoy live in Camak. Many of Sgt. McCoy's family live in Warren County - a place he considered as much his home as anywhere - a place where he loved to hunt and fish and spend time with family.
Sgt. McCoy, who turned 23 just nine days before his death on June 10, had been a patient at Fort Sam Houston Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, since his Bradley armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad on Easter Sunday. Four of the men with him were killed instantly, which brought the death toll at the time of the five year old war to 4,000.
U.S. Army Gen. Jeffrey Foley, who commands Fort Gordon, met privately with family members of Sgt. McCoy prior to the funeral service to present them with the Gold Star Lapel Button. The button has been given to immediate family members of soldiers killed in the line of duty since World War II.
"It's very symbolic," said Gen. Foley, while being interviewed by The McDuffie Mirror.
Aside from Sgt. McCoy's parents receiving the distinguished lapel pin, so did his wife, Tabitha and their twin children, Ryley and Landen, who are about to turn 4.
"We're all volunteers - all of our guys and gals serve this country, because they choose to serve this great country," said Gen. Foley.
He said Americans should never underestimate how proud those who serve in the armed forces feel when others show their support.
"If we know that people really care, it makes us walk just a little taller," added Gen. Foley.
One of Sgt. McCoy's longtime friends, U.S. Marine Specialist Brian Gay, of Moultrie, attended the funeral.
The two grew up in Moultrie and spent lots of time together on weekends and summers while attending Colquitt County High School. Following graduation, both had a desire to join the Marine Corps.
However, before Sgt. McCoy ever was sworn into the Marine Corps, he changed his mind and decided he would enlist in the U.S. Army. Family members say he wanted to be in the Army like his older brother, Eric, also a sergeant and involved in his second mission in the Iraq war. Specialist Gay opted on the Marine Corps. Nevertheless, the two remained close friends.
"We had the best time together," said Specialist Gay following the burial of his buddy, whom he considered one of his closest friends. "He'd do anything to make me and other friends of ours laugh. He just enjoyed life."
U.S. Army Chaplain Eugene Mack of Ft. Sam Houston Brooke Army Medical Center said at the Savannah Valley Memorial Gardens gravesite that family and friends of Sgt. McCoy should never forget the memories of the fallen soldier.
1) mccoy_funeral3.eps -- cutline: A member of the U.S. Army Honor Guard from Fort Stewart prepares to present the American flag to Sgt. Steve McCoy's mother, Pam McCoy, of Camak, during funeral services at Savannah Valley Memorial Gardens near Thomson last Thursday.