Fallen National Guard soldier Sgt. Brock Henry Chavers Sr. was awarded two presidential honors Saturday during a standing-room only funeral that packed Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church.
An unidentified National Guard officer surprised some in the crowd with the presentations, which were not on the program. After remarks from Maj. Gen. William T. Nesbitt, Georgia National Guard Adjutant General, Elder Donald Chavers started to move forward with the program. However, the unidentified officer took the stage and announced Chavers was posthumously awarded both the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart Medal.
The funeral was far from somber, with the Agape Worship Center Choir providing spiritual song as Chavers' family entered the church, followed by dignitaries and special friends of the family, including Sen. Jack Hill.
Two large flags hung on the wall, bordering a large cross. Other flags braced the podium, flanked by floral arrangements that largely had a patriotic theme. One arrangement was in the form of an American flag; another formed a yellow ribbon.
Outside, members of the Patriot Guard formed a corridor, holding flags to show respect and appreciation for Chavers and his family. The Patriot Guard is a group of "primarily motorcyclists that exists to show families of fallen soldiers that they don't grieve alone," said Bill Gaskin, Rider Captain for the group.
Elder Donald Chavers was first to speak, acknowledging people from different races, backgrounds and areas that came to pay their respects, encouraging visitors to celebrate Brock Chavers' life and not to be afraid to show emotion. " Just go ahead and put your black, white, red, yellow hands together," he said.
Fletcher Memorial Pastor Ron Andrews spoke with emotion, pointing out two lights that were located on the stage, symbolizing those who have lost lives in the fight for freedom as well as those who continue to fight.
'I feel like Sgt. Brock Chavers laid down his life for me so I can do what I do," he said. "He has joined... men and women who, for the past 2,000 years, have loved God and country so much they gave the ultimate sacrifice..."
Pastor Emory Hagins from Portal read the 23rd Psalm. "I think that when David wrote it, he wrote it for a time just like this," he said.
April Holmes, a close friend of Brock Chavers who said he was " more like a brother," sang a solo, but first made presentations to the Chavers family. "Brock taught me to play pool," she said, handing a pool stick over to be given to Chavers' young son, Brock Henry Chavers Jr.
Wearing a white dress with a patriotic drape over her left shoulder, Holmes' spiritual song brought applause.
When Nesbitt took a turn to speak, he acknowledged the rousing emotion shown by those attending the service. " I've had people say they were going to celebrate someone's life before, but you folks mean it," he said. "It warms my heart to see this community get behind ( the Chavers family)."
Nesbitt said "This family is the bedrock, the fabric that makes this country great. Four sons serving - three of them serving with the 38th Brigade, and one in basic training ... and Brock's wife, Minnie ( who is also in the Georgia National Guard.)
"This is a military family that knows what it means that freedom comes with a price, and this family has paid the ultimate cost."
He spoke of Chavers' renowned sense of humor and his dependability. "He epitomized ... the strength of our nation. He will always be remembered as the best," he said. " Well done, soldier. Rest in peace."
Other friends of the family spoke, including Alfonzo Hall of Portal, who talked about how Chavers had disturbing feelings about going to Afghanistan. But when Hall asked if there was any way he could get out of going, Chavers told him " I signed up. I have soldiers. I have to do what I have to do," he said. " Regardless, he was going to go."
With a voice showing mixed emotions of pride and grief, Chavers' mother, Loice Chavers, also spoke.
"I just want to say thanks to all of you who knew Brock, and to those of you who didn't, you missed a treat. Brock was a character," she said.
Ms. Chavers spoke of how she held strong in going to Delaware to identify her son's body, but started to break down after returning home. She sought solace in going to the cemetery where her mother is buried and talked to her.
"I'm pouring my heart out to my Mama and it was like she said 'I told you if you raised those kids right ... they'll make you proud.'"
After the funeral service at the church, local law enforcement and public safety officers led a procession through downtown Statesboro, then to Bulloch Memorial Gardens on U.S. 80 East. Along the route, people were lined up in groups, waving signs or flags and showing support and respect.
At the cemetery, a crowd of supporters were also present. People lined the road, forming a corridor as the procession moved to the cemetery. Chavers was buried with full military honors, laid to rest with a 21-gun salute.