Kelly McCloud stood on the corner of the driveway to Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport just before noon Thursday with her neighbors and their children holding flags.
No one had to ask why she was there.
McCloud came with her flag to support the family of Maj. Kevin Jenrette, an Army Ranger who was killed in action near Kapisa, Afghanistan, last week. McCloud, a wife and mother who has a husband serving in the National Guard, felt a connection to Jenrette’s mourning family, she said.
"For me, this is just — it’s a part of our family coming back," McCloud said.
Jenrette, 37 of Lula, was one of three Georgia soldiers killed by small arms fire and a blast caused by an improvised explosive device, according to Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, state public affairs officer for the Georgia National Guard.
The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 108th Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Squadron, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team with the Georgia National Guard of Calhoun.
The Gainesville airport was closed to the public Thursday as Army officials delivered Jenrette’s body back home. Only the fallen soldier’s immediate family members were allowed inside to receive him.
Still, hundreds of people lined the streets of Gainesville, some waving flags or holding their hands over their hearts, to receive Jenrette’s family as they escorted the soldier’s body from the airport to Memorial Park Funeral Home where they would prepare for his burial.
There were those who came because they had a real connection to the Jenrette family and wanted to support their mourning friends.
Kevin Finley, a Clermont resident, stood outside the fence with a friend, their eyes set on the airport’s landing strip. When two military helicopters landed carrying military personnel, Finley put his arm around his friend. Jenrette had been the best friend of the man Finley was comforting, and later police came to escort Finley’s friend inside the airport.
Finley’s lip trembled as he explained why he came to support his friend.
"I wish everyone could be here," Finley said. "(Jenrette) paid the ultimate sacrifice."
Terry Mize, a Lula resident, did not know Jenrette, but knew his father-in-law "extremely well." Mize, who stood alone outside the airport fence next to a line of sheriff’s office vehicles, also was a former member of the Georgia National Guard, he said.
"Being a veteran, you always try to come out and show respect of your fallen comrades," Mize said.
And though the war Mize fought ended more than 30 years ago, Mize felt a connection to Jenrette.
"I didn’t fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, but I did experience combat," he said. "We share that. And we’ll always share that."
But for many of those who lined the streets holding flags between the airport and Memorial Park Funeral Home, the only thing they shared with Jenrette was their pride in their country.
Sherry Moat and her 11-year-old granddaughter, Brittani Daniel, sat on the back of their blue sport utility vehicle parked on the side of Queen City Parkway as they waited on Jenrette’s family to leave the airport.
The two had been talking about Jenrette’s death when Brittani decided she wanted to stop and pay her respects.
"I think it’s a learning lesson for her," Moat said. "(The war) it’s so far away from us. People just don’t understand how it’s still protecting us even though it’s not on our land; that there are good people out there that gave their lives to protect us."
"They have families just like we have families."
Next to two large Georgia Power utility trucks that had a large American flag hanging between them over Browns Bridge Road, Kyle Savage stood in a gas station parking lot with his two sons. The men decided since they were in town, they should stop and show support to the Jenrette family.
"I told my sons we ought to stop and pay our respects," Savage said. "Because he died to protect our freedom, we ought to pay our respects to the family. It’s the least we can do."
Savage said he did not know the family, but to have a soldier from the area return from the war zone fatally wounded affected him.
"We hear about (the war) and read about it. I guess we don’t know how important it is until it happens here," Savage said. "We take for granted the freedom we get a lot of the time."
Jenrette’s family will continue to receive friends at Memorial Park Funeral Home on Memorial Park Drive from 4 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. today. His funeral will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at Timber Ridge Baptist Church with interment to follow in the church cemetery.
A separate memorial service will be held at Lyman Ward Military Academy in Camp Hill, Ala., at a later date.