NEW LONDON -- In 2007, Ryane Clark stood in a sea of students, teachers and friends on the day he graduated from New London-Spicer High School.
On Thursday, a sea of students, teachers and friends clutched flags outside NLS High School to honor Clark as his body was carried to his hometown of New London.
Clark, a U.S. Army private first class, was killed last week in Afghanistan.
After arriving at the Willmar Municipal Airport at 12:30 p.m., a procession of vehicles escorted Clark's body through Willmar and Spicer and finally New London, where the entire student body of 1,476, as well as staff and school board members, lined both sides of the street in front of the high school.
Kindergarten students sat obediently on the curb until their teachers told them it was time to stand and place their hands over their hearts.
Like a wave, the procedure was replicated as the first-, second-, third- and fourth-graders also stood.
The middle school and high school students were somber as the procession drew near, led by five members of the American Legion Color Guard, who walked briskly down the street.
"We're showing respect for one of our own. One of our nation's own," said Paul Carlson, NLS superintendent.
He said it was important for the students to honor a "former graduate who's paid the ultimate sacrifice to our country."
To help prepare them, Carlson said teachers talked to the students in advance about "Ryane and his family and the community, and that it's not just our communities that are mourning, but the nation."
Those talks also included discussions about patriotism, war and soldiers who are "protecting our freedom," Carlson said.
Elementary Principal Joe Broderick said teachers taught their students this week about "how to pay tribute to a fallen soldier who gave his life."
Teachers and school staff members, many of whom had memories of Clark as a student, wept as the procession passed by.
Connie Basore, a paraprofessional at NLS, remembers Clark as a fourth-grader in her classroom. "He was such a pleasant young man and always had a smile on his face," she said. "It's an honor to be here today and honor him."
While scanning the long line of students standing in a bright autumn sun as a stiff breeze fluttered the flags, Carlson said he was glad the students could participate, but added quietly, "It's tough."
Community residents were also on New London's streets to pay their respects, including Carolyn Stevens and her 4-year-old grandson, Mateo Tejedo, whose father returned safely after serving in Iraq.
"You feel so fortunate that your loved one came back alive and so sad for those who it didn't work out that way," Stevens said.
Clark joins a small group of military members from New London killed while on duty.
On the wall of the American Legion Post 537 there are 12 photographs of the fallen -- most are from World War II. There a couple from the Vietnam era including a distant relative of Clark's.
The most recent photo is from 1986 when a woman was killed while stationed in Florida.
While looking at the wall, a member of the Legion post said the photos will have to be rearranged to make room for Clark's photo.
He'll be number 13.