A river of emotion flowed through Georgia Southern University's Hanner Fieldhouse Saturday as one of Statesboro's own hometown heroes, Special Agent Staff Sgt. Chester JaMicheal McBride III, was lain to rest.
McBride a Statesboro native and 2003 graduate of Statesboro High, was killed Dec. 21 along with five fellow American troops when a suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military facility in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
During the service, it was learned that McBride actually shielded the linguist assigned to his patrol when the bomb went off, saving the linguist's life as he absorbed the worst of the blast.
Friends and speakers from all parts of McBride's too short, but well-lived life came to the podium to praise the family man, friend or colleague they lost. At the end, it was left to McBride's pastor, Donald Chavers Jr. with the Agape Worship Center, to offer hope in "a time of such great sorrow."
At the conclusion of his passionate eulogy, Chavers told the story of a woman who bought a flower from a florist who promised her the flower would never die.
The flower, however, did die. The woman called the florist, who came out to her house. She showed him the dead flower, but the florist said, "Wait a moment. Let me see.
"He walked and he walked and he walked until he came to another man's property. He looked over the fence and he said: ‘Oh, there's your flower!' He said, ‘You planted it here, but it also came up over there and it's as beautiful as it's always been.'
"All I'm trying to tell you is, he's gone, you planted him here, but he's coming up in the hearts of his nieces and nephews and grandbabies and grandmas, your friends, your neighbors, these soldiers. He's coming up in the hearts of everybody!"
Pastor Chavers then looked directly at McBride's parents, Annie and Chester Sr. and said: "You done a good job. You planted a beautiful flower. And now he's showing you exactly how valuable he is."
People began arriving at Hanner Fieldhouse Saturday morning an hour before the funeral began. Hundreds filed parking lots and packed seats inside as friends, associates and community members who just wanted to pay respects joined McBride's family for the military-style funeral.
A live band and choir provided music as people were seated before a flag-covered casket. After the posting of colors and an invocation, Angela Hunter, who said McBride was "like a son to me," read passages from the Bible, including John 15:13; "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
One of McBride's longtime friends, Andre Wright, shared memories.
"He touched each and every one of us in different ways," he said. "He was someone to make a difference... and look up to. He put as much effort into motivating others as he did himself. Chester learned at a very young age to put God first, and was a family oriented person who always wanted to do things right."
Travis McBride spoke reverently about his cousin.
"Our bonds were as close as if we were brothers," he said. "Chester was selfless, always looking out for whoever he was associated with. He always had great vision and was able to look at all his options."
The son of Chester R. McBride and Annie L. McBride of Statesboro, McBride attended Agape Worship Center. He graduated from Statesboro High School in 2003, then received a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice, cum laude, in 2007 from Savannah State University.
He received a Certificate of Graduation in the Criminal Investigator Training Program CITP-218 in August, 2012 and the following year received an associate's degree in applied science criminal justice from Community College of the Air Force.
He also graduated from Valdosta State with a master's of public administration on May 9, 2015.
McBride looked forward to a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation after completing his military career, family members said.
Charles Kalevala, another of McBride's friends, spoke about meeting Chester in 1998 when he first moved to the area.
"To me, he has always been a hero," he said. "He is always one I will look up to. Chester made me a stronger person."
Christy Page, who taught McBride in first grade, shared a poem she wrote and posted on social media shortly after McBride was killed. She became emotional, voice cracking, as she recited the poem.
One verse was "Everyone wanted to be Chester's friend; because his heart was so big, he let everyone in."
Jenny Purvis Miller also showed emotion as she and other representatives of the Statesboro High School Class of 2003 presented McBride's family with an inscribed flag case.
"To know Chester was to love him," she said. "He fought for all of us here today, and we are humbled by that. He is a true American hero, son and friend."
Representatives of the Blue Star Mothers of America and Brig. Gen. Keith Givens of Air Force Office of Special Investigations also recognized McBride for his dedication and service to his country.
Givens commented on the large turnout for McBride's funeral. "What I see in Statesboro today is what is right in Americas," he said. "Today we honor someone who led the life of an American patriot, an American hero."
His office presented McBride posthumously the Bronze Star Medal of Valor, the Purple Heart Medal, the Air Force Combat Action Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal.
After the eulogy from Pastor Chavers, a recessional followed and the funeral procession, led by officers from various law enforcement agencies as well as the Patriot Guard Riders, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Shamrock Riders, Christian Motorcycle Association, U.S. Military Veterans and other motorcycle groups, made its way to the Mt. Zion AME Church Cemetery on Hwy. 24 East.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.