Tampa, Florida - Army Spc. Brittany Gordon came home Wednesday morning in a flag-draped coffin. While military personnel and law enforcement saluted, her family gathered at MacDill Air Force Base for the heartrending homecoming.
Wartime tragedy has birthed a Tampa Bay tradition. A motorcade escorted Gordon's hearse down Bayshore Boulevard, where William Rogers prepared to release white doves. "Doves are a symbol of love and peace and freedom," says Rogers.
Others along Bayshore simply held flags and stood at attention to signal their thanks for Gordon's service. The 24-year-old was killed in Afghanistan when her unit was attacked by a bomber.
"What would we do without our guys and gals fighting for our freedom?" questioned Annette Smith along the processional route.
"The people who are serving do this for us, so we can be here on a beautiful Tampa day," said an emotional Robin Hart. "I just wanted to pay my respects.
The procession made its way across the bay to St. Petersburg where Gordon was born and raised. She went to St. Pete High and friends say she brightened lives with her smile.
"It could be a rainy day and there will be a whole day of sunshine when she'd be around," said Shovon Green, who played in a community band with Gordon.
Gordon's father Cedric is an Assistant Police Chief in St. Pete and as the procession rolled by the station, his law enforcement family showed their support.
Later at the funeral home, Cedric Gordon also received warm embraces. But really, all along the route today, friends and strangers shared this family's heartache.
A memorial service for Army Spc. Brittany Gordon will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Wireman Chapel at Eckerd College. The public is invited.