Fallen soldier returns: People line streets to honor Sgt. Kyle Miller
WILLMAR -- One of Willmar's busiest intersections fell silent Friday evening for a procession guiding Sgt. Kyle Miller's body home. The procession started in the Twin Cities, where Miller's body arrived in the afternoon at the airport. The proces...
WILLMAR -- One of Willmar's busiest intersections fell silent Friday evening for a procession guiding Sgt. Kyle Miller's body home.
The procession started in the Twin Cities, where Miller's body arrived in the afternoon at the airport. The procession took U.S. Highway 71 into Willmar and stopped at Harvey Anderson Funeral Home on 19th Avenue Southwest.
Miller, 19, of Willmar died June 29 near Balad, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded. The Minnesota National Guard soldier was promoted posthumously from specialist to sergeant, the Guard announced Friday.
His funeral will be Monday in Willmar. (See related story on Page A2 and the obituary on Page A8 for more details.)
Before 7 p.m. Friday, traffic stopped at the bustling intersection of First Street South and 19th Avenue as the procession drew closer. The roughly 200 people that had gathered along the avenue near the American Legion stopped chatting and waited.
A color guard made up of members of the National Guard unit based in Willmar stood in First Street and ordered about 16 other soldiers lining the avenue to salute.
A silver hearse led by emergency and military vehicles passed. The motors' hum made the only sound.
The silence lingered after the procession moved on. One by one people slowly and quietly turned around to walk back to their cars. A large American flag hanging from the ladder of a Willmar Fire Department truck whipped around in the wind.
Margaret Jackson of New London stayed longer than the others, snapping pictures of the flag on the fire truck. She is a friend of Miller's mother, Kathy Miller.
She said the number of people coming out to greet the procession was great.
"It shows a lot of respect," she said.
Alyssa Buisman, 19, of Atwater stood along 19th Avenue with her family for the procession. She worked with Miller for two years at Culver's restaurant in Willmar.
She said a lot of the other teenage boys working there were immature, but not Miller.
"He worked hard," she said. "He was a really nice guy."
Several people lined up along 19th Avenue didn't know Miller or his family, but said they wanted to be there to show him and his family respect and appreciation.
Sgt. Allen Paulson of Willmar, a National Guardsman who served in a Iraq for a year with the 1-151st Field Artillery, stood on the avenue in his uniform with his wife and daughter.
He said he lost a friend while in Iraq -- Sgt. Jesse Lhotka who died in Baghdad in 2005 after a roadside bomb exploded.
"I figured it was proper respect to pay tribute to a fallen soldier," Paulson said.
Geri Dale of Spicer didn't know Miller, but has a nephew serving in the Marine Reserves. She said she came to show support and said Miller's death brings the war closer to home.
"It's all more real when it's your town," she said.
Members of the American Legion lined up and prepared to salute the procession as it came by.
"It's really showing high respect and a tribute to a veteran who gave it all," said Wayne Emberland, chairman of the Legion military honor guard.
Brad Bonnema of Raymond set up his camera on a tripod to take photos of the procession to send to his children. His son, a former Marine who lives in California, served two tours of duty in Iraq and told Bonnema the hardest thing for him during war was losing his friends.
"It's not easy losing somebody, especially in a small town," Bonnema said.