Army Sgt. Paul G. Smith, 43, of Peoria, Ill.
Sgt. Smith was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 106th Cavalry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard, Aurora, Ill.; died June 19, 2009 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Melton.
EAST PEORIA — Staff Sgt. Paul G. Smith made his final journey home Friday.
A plane carrying the soldier, who was killed last week in Afghanistan, landed at noon at the Illinois Air National Guard Base before embarking on a procession to East Peoria.
The path of the procession was dotted with supporters holding signs and waving flags to show their support for 43-year-old Smith and his family.
Traffic on Interstate 474 and I-74 slowed to a slow crawl as the procession passed. Some motorists on the entrance ramps got out of their cars to salute Smith. Others could be seen with their heads bowed, seemingly in prayer.
Once the motorcade reached East Peoria, the 1984 EPCHS graduate was given a hero's welcome.
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders surrounded the hearse as it pulled into Remmert Funeral Home and bagpipe players began performing "Amazing Grace."
Smith was older than most when he decided to join the military at age 27. Nonetheless, he was the fastest runner in his training class.
"He was looking for a better job, and he said, 'Well, I'm going to try the military,' " said William Smith, an older brother. "My initial reaction was, 'Are you sure?' But he was a patriot, and he honored his job."
The entire Smith family, including wife, Kim, daughter, Sarah, and son, Ben, continue to struggle with the loss, William Smith said.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever had to cope with," he said.
Those who served with Sgt. Smith knew him as an extremely hard worker.
"He was a quiet soldier, always willing to do what was needed to get the job done," Staff Sgt. Johnathan Brewer said. "It's a great loss. It's hard to find people like him, people who never say no, who never ask why, who do whatever is asked of them."
Ceremony played a large part in services Friday, starting when Smith's casket was moved off the plane at the National Guard base.
About 100 airmen and soldiers were lined up across from one another, creating a line from the cargo doors of the plane to the hearse, Col. William "Robbie" Robertson, commander of the 182nd Airlift Wing, said.
The base was blanketed in silence out of respect for Smith. Before the plane landed, Robertson gave the order, as he does for all such ceremonies, for all work to cease. Motors were turned off. Computers were shut down. Everyone who could be pulled away was in one of the two lines, waiting to show their respect for their fallen comrade.
Smith and another Illinois Army National Guard solider, Staff Sgt. Joshua A. Melton, died June 19 in Kandahar, as the result of their vehicle being hit by an improvised explosive device.
Smith was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 106th Calvary Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade, Illinois Army National Guard. When not supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, his unit is located in Aurora.
Melton and Smith are the 13th and 14th casualties from the Illinois National Guard's 33rd IBCT since their deployment to Afghanistan and are the 29th and 30th casualties the Illinois National Guard has suffered since operations in Afghanistan and Iraq began.
Army Sgt. Paul G. Smith was killed in action on 6/19/09.