Fallen soldier eulogized as 'everybody's son'

More than 1,000 mourners - from bikers to World War II veterans - gathered Saturday in Minden to honor Army Pfc. Phillip Brandon Williams cut down by a sniper's bullet in Iraq where he served as a military policeman.

Williams, 21, was Carson Valley's first military casualty in the war in Iraq.

"It's like he's everybody's son," said Alejah Miller, 14, who attended services with her mother.

Williams was serving with the 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad and was dispatched to Iraq in March. He was assigned to the 4th Brigade Team in Fort Campbell, Ky.

He died Oct. 9, shot by a sniper as he guarded Explosive Ordinance Disposal personnel who are trained to eliminate roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.

Pastors Steve Erven and Don Bauman of Hilltop Community Church officiated at Williams' memorial at Douglas High School, his alma mater.

"Tragedies like this are not the end of the story," Erven said. "His life did not end on Oct. 9. That's when his eternal life began."

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of family members, friends and dignitaries including Gov. Kenny Guinn, Sen. John Ensign, Rep. Jim Gibbons and Secretary of State Dean Heller.

Scores of law enforcement personnel attended in honor of Williams' father and uncle who are sergeants with the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.

More than 400 flag-waving motorcyclists showed up from across northern Nevada and California, some spurred to attend by a threat from a Kansas-based religious group that they would send protesters to the funeral.

The protesters did not materialize and the bikers provided a colorful addition to the ceremonies.

The funeral ended with a video that Williams - called Brandon by family and friends - prepared and set to the Simon and Garfunkel classic "Homeward Bound."

Williams included a note in the video that read, "I'll be home soon. I promise."

His parents, Lisa Hall and Brad Williams, were presented several medals including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Each family member including his brothers, Justin, 20, and Aaron, 17, and sister Amy, 16, were given Gold Star lapel pins, a tradition from World War I for families who have lost relatives in combat.

Justin Williams, a U.S. Marine, escorted his brother's body back to Nevada.

Brandon Williams had returned to Carson Valley in August to surprise his sister on her 16th birthday.

"We had him home for a short time during that stay and we are so thankful for that time," his mother said in a statement.

"I am grieving the loss of my firstborn, but the pride I have for him is immeasurable. He was and is a child of God, and he is up there with our Lord watching us now."

His death touched a chord in Carson Valley where people from all walks of life interrupted their noontime routines to salute the motorcade that slowly made its way through town to Eastside Memorial Park where Williams was buried with full military honors.

Two women held up handmade signs that read, "Our loss, too," and "Thank you."

Another sign read, "Thank you, Brandon, for our freedom. God bless you."

Wes Francis of Dayton, a detective with the Nevada Department of Public Safety and a member of the Blue Knights law enforcement motorcycle group, said the ceremony hit home.

His son and daughter-in-law, both 20, are in the Navy in San Diego and set for deployment.

Francis served in the Air Force for 9-1/2 years and is a Gulf War veteran.

"I always knew that military and law enforcement were like big families," he said as he looked around the gathering at the cemetery. "But when you put them together, this is incredible."

Ana Andrews, a member of the local Blue Star Mothers, helped hand out hundreds of flags to people as they entered the high school.

Her son Gieorag, 23, is a graduate of the Naval Academy, and is completing submarine training. Andrew, 22, is in Australia and is headed for Officers Candidate School.

"I'm here because of my sons," she said. "And because their father died in active duty in the military."

Gieorag was 15 months old and she was pregnant with Andrew when her husband died in Panama.

"And I come from a country where you couldn't have the freedoms we have now," said Andrews who is a native of Colombia.

"Brandon reminds me of my children," she said.

High school juniors Jessica Lamb, 16, Mary Lombino, 16, and Billy Coats, 16, came to support Amy Williams.

"I think it's hard for her," Lamb said.

"This shows how well our community can come together," said Lombino as she surveyed the crowd filling the bleachers in the high school gym.

Some people came who didn't know Williams, but wanted to support the family.

Judy and James Sabatini, who have two sons in the military, came from Reno. Their son Matthew, 20, is a Marine and 24-year-old Christopher serves in the Army special forces.

"We're very proud. We couldn't be any prouder," Judy Sabatini said. "Unless somebody has been in our shoes, they don't understand."

"Our hearts go out to them," James Sabatini said of the Williams family.

Jake Cervantes, 20, one of Williams' closest friends, said he was surprised at the turnout.

"It shows that a lot of people thought to honor what he did, fighting for our country," Cervantes said.

Travis Spencer, 20, thought the young soldier would have been pleased.

"He would love the bikes," Spencer said. "He would have been checking them out."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment