Huge Crowd Gathers to Honor 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl
Lexington residents honored 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl of Lexington during his funeral procession on Sunset Boulevard Saturday.
Lexington residents donned their red, white and blue Saturday and lined the sidewalks of Sunset Boulevard.
Kids waved miniature flags.
People stood with their hands over their hearts.
It was quiet.
It wasn't a Fourth of July celebration, but it was a show of patriotism.
"I've lived in Lexington for 40 years and I've never seen this many people at one thing to honor one person," Joe Williams said.
The hundreds of people were there to pay their respects to fallen soldier 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl of Lexington.
Rawl, 30, was killed in a suicide bomber attack in Afghanistan June 20, along with two other South Carolina Army Guardsmen: Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Bradford Thomas, 30, of Easley and Spc. John David Meador II, 36, of Columbia.
Saturday, people stood shoulder-to-shoulder on both sides of Sunset Boulevard from Highway 6 to Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church for Rawl's funeral procession from Barr-Price Funeral Home to the church.
Before 8 a.m. Saturday, the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who ride at soldiers' funerals, were already gathered in the parking lot of Walmart.
"We are here only to pay honor and respect to this young man," the leader of the group told his members.
Just before 9 a.m., they all grabbed a flag and lined up along both sides of the street.
Although many of the people who stood along the street didn't know Rawl personally, they came to show their respect and appreciation.
They came because they have friends and family serving in the military.
They came because they know what it's like to lose someone.
Williams said he lost a friend who died from an explosion while serving with the Air Force in Afghanistan. His father served in the Army, and his son-in-law flies F16s in the Air Force. He stood quietly Saturday during the procession, holding an American flag.
Williams' friend, David Pietras, joined him. Pietras also has friends in the military.
"Most of them don't think they're heroes," Pietras said. "That's just what they do."
Williams said he wanted to make sure the Rawl family wasn't affected by the Westboro Baptist Church protestors if they showed up.
"I understand that church's protesting, but not here," Williams said. " It's not about hurting them or injuring them in any way. It's about giving the family respect."
Although press releases on the Westboro Baptist Church website announced they were coming to Rawl's funeral, there was no sign of them during the procession or at the church.
Fran Felkel and her husband also came out Saturday. Felkel's husband and son are both retired from the military.
"We support the military fully," Felkel said. "We just thank them for the ultimate sacrifice they've given."
Rawl, a Richalnd County Sheriff's deputy, was honored in the procession by his fellow deputies. They walked the street in front of the horse-drawn caisson that carried Rawl's casket and saluted when his body was taken into the church.
After the procession, the Patriot Guard Riders rode their bikes to the church to prepare to lead the procession to the cemetary.
Leading up to Rawl's funeral, businesses around town put up messages of support on their signs that read, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Rawl and Meador families."
"We don't take it lightly when we have a fallen hero," Williams said. "The only reason we can do and say what we can do and say is because of sacrifices like this."
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