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Honor for a hero
Soldier's body arrives in Cumming
procession 5 bystanders salute jd
Members of American Legion Post 307 salute as flags pass during a procession for Army Cpl. Matthew Phillips, who was killed July 13 in Afghanistan. Phillips' body arrived Wednesday at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville, with a motorcade leading the hearse from there to Ingram Funeral Home in Cumming. - photo by Jim Dean

A fallen soldier returned home this morning to a hero's welcome.

The body of Cpl. Matthew Phillips arrived at 9:35 a.m. Wednesday at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville.

The chartered jet from Dover Air Force Base was met by an honor guard from the U.S. Army, which placed the casket into a waiting hearse for the trip to Ingram's Funeral Home in Cumming, where his body will lie in repose until a funeral Saturday.

His family arrived about 45 minutes before the plane in a funeral home limousine. The soldier's widow, Eve, was escorted by an Army officer as she led a contingent of family members to the back of the hearse.

The family stood briefly as the casket was placed into the hearse and then gathered for a time of prayer.

The tarmac at the airport was a sea of red, white and blue as a Hall County Sheriff's office honor guard, along with others, displayed the American flag. Flags also were evident on many of the vehicles.

The motorcade was led by group of about a dozen motorcycle officers from Forsyth and Hall counties.

The procession also included officers from the Gainesville police department, the Dawson County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia State Patrol.

Following the motorcade was about 100 motorcyclists, members of the Patriot Guard, a volunteer groups that honors fallen soldiers.

One member of the Army honor guard was overcome by the heat and had to be treated on the scene by the Gainesville Fire Department and Hall County paramedics.

A Gainesville Fire Department tower truck stood near the airport's exit with its boom arm fully extended, a giant American flag draped across the path of the motorcade. Two firefighters stood at attention in the bucket.

Leslie Truelove of Gainesville brought four children, including one in a stroller, to attend the ceremony.

"I want them to understand why he did what he did," she said. "He fought for our country and I want them to know that."

Her husband, Todd, stood on the tarmac with a dozen uniformed members of the Georgia State Defense Force, an all-volunteer unit that is called upon in times of emergency.

"It was tough, I tried not to cry but it was really hard," Todd Truelove said. "People don't understand what people give up so they can have their liberties."

For Korean War veteran Charlie Musselwhite, the sentiment was simple.

"Freedom is not free," Musselwhite said. "We've got people paying the ultimate sacrifice and thank God for a voluntary armed services."

Others attended included Angela Sparks of Buford, who brought her grandson, Reed Jordan.

"His dad has been over there twice and has come home whole and healthy and I'm so thankful for that," Sparks said. "But I felt like we needed to exposed to what took place here today."

When Phillips' body arrived in Cumming, the route along Veterans Memorial Boulevard was lined with people bearing American flags, with the largest contingent near the city's veteran's memorial.

As the procession reached the courthouse square, it was greeted by more flag wavers, including Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.

Jim Dean of the FCN staff contributed to this report.