JAMESTOWN - With a strong showing of support from the local community, a plane bearing the casket of Sgt. Kevin White arrived at the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Surrounded by friends, family members, veterans and many members of the Patriot Guard Riders, the casket was placed into a hearse from Mason Funeral Home in Westfield and led a lengthy procession on Interstate 86 and Route 394 to White's hometown.
White, a 2006 graduate of Westfield Academy and Central School, was killed May 2 while serving in active duty with the U.S. Army at COP Honaker Miracle in Afghanistan.
Susan Rowley, president of the Lake Erie N.Y. Chapter 4 of Blue Star Mothers of America, was in attendance for the arrival of the Kalitta Charters military plane along with several other members of the support group for military mothers.
She said that White's mother, Patricia White, was a charter member of the local chapter.
''We had a meeting on Saturday, and there were a lot of tears and a lot of hugs,'' Mrs. Rowley said, adding that White's mother was understandably not in attendance. ''We just feel like we need to be here, to show our support.''
OBSERVER Photos by Jenna Loughlin and Dave Emke
Top: A hearse carrying the body of Sgt. Kevin White drives down Main Street in Westfield Wednesday afternoon.
White's death was the second of a local soldier in recent months, after Lance Cpl. Aaron Swanson of the U.S. Marines lost his life in Afghanistan on Feb. 7. Randy Hinsdale of Ashville said he knows the family of both soldiers, and felt compelled to participate in the ceremony at the airport Wednesday.
''It's a huge loss,'' said Hinsdale, a veteran who served as part of a United Nations police action in Cyprus and whose brothers both served in Vietnam.
Hinsdale's friend Joe Siperek of Busti served in Vietnam and said that a bond forms between Americans who have served in active duty, even if they have never met. Therefore, he said, the least he could do to honor White was be present for his arrival back home and salute his sacrifice.
''I haven't known any of the vets who have been killed and returned to the area since this has started, but I've tried to make a showing at least in some form at memorials or funerals,'' Siperek said. ''When you've been there, there's a comradeship.''
Many veterans and military supporters from around the area felt the same way and took time from their day Wednesday to take part in White's arrival. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle club that supports military and protects them during funerals and memorial services, stood guard during the ceremony at the airport and then rode along with the procession to Westfield.
As the procession traveled out of Jamestown on I-86, some who had just left the airport stopped on the West Oak Hill Road overpass to wave American flags and continue to show their support. One of those individuals was Bonnie Huber of Kennedy, who said her husband is a U.S. Marine and she is close friends with the mother of Pfc. Charles Cooper, a Jamestown soldier who was killed in Iraq in April 2005.
Despite having no personal connection with the White family, she said she wanted to be present for his return home.
''I feel for his parents, his family, his neighbors,'' Mrs. Huber said. ''I just wanted to be here to support my country and support the family that has to go through this sorrow.''
Mrs. Rowley said that she and several other members of the local Blue Star Mothers chapter have children either currently in action or getting ready to be deployed. She said that the outpouring of love and support that was present for White's arrival back home in Chautauqua County on Wednesday was moving.
''Something like this - I hate to say it - brings our community closer, praying to God it will never happen again,'' she said.