MORRIS – American flags waved in the breeze along highways and streets for miles Wednesday as communities honored the late Lance Cpl. Steven Hancock as he was escorted to Morris.
Hancock and his family were escorted Wednesday afternoon from O'Hare Airport to U.C.Davis - Callahan Funeral Home by police and fire departments, the Illinois Patriot Guard, and the Leatherneck Motorcycle Club.
"We don't want people to forget what these families have sacrificed," Mike Stuckey with the Illinois Patriot Guard said. "The ultimate sacrifice is what we are here for today."
Hancock, a 2011 graduate of Coal City High School, died last week after falling from an aircraft during a training flight in North Carolina. Hancock would have celebrated his 21st last week.
Rhode Bronk, commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 86, sat in a chair on Illinois Avenue waiting for the procession in the hot afternoon sun. Bronk was injured while serving in Vietnam, so he understands the importance of bringing a service member home.
"We're here because veterans are about a brotherhood. We're here so we will never forget," Bronk said. "We need to support the family."
Beside him stood Senior Vice Commander Wendell Johnson, who served with Bronk in Vietnam.
"We didn't get a welcome home," he said. "Every time I see a veteran in uniform I shake their hand, they are someone's brother, sister, son or daughter. We respect our veterans, especially this Marine who was killed in training. Unfortunately, they don't all make it home."
Stacy Clement with Project Patriotism handed out more than 300 flags to community members who lined the streets to await the processional.
Melissa Dunning grabbed one of the flags and took her place on the sidewalk on Washington Street where the processional was scheduled to end in front of the funeral home.
"It's the right thing to do," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. "It's very touching. Nothing is guaranteed in this world, that is the sad thing."
A few feet away, sisters 8-year-old Haylee and 7-year-old Halayna Keymon stood holding American Flags with their mother.
"We're here for the soldier, because he served our country," Haylee said.
Hancock's Boy Scout Troop was represented as well. Bryan and Cindy Bingheim stood holding Boy Scout flags representing Troop 466 in Coal City where Hancock was once a Boy Scout before achieving Eagle Scout status.
"On our way here we talked about how it is a patriotic and civic duty to participate," Cindy Bingheim said.
As the escort progressed from Chicago, updates were sent to the organizers in Morris alerting them to the whereabouts of the escort so they could have everyone in place as they rolled into town.
Flag holders were spaced an arm's length apart with the flag in their left hand as they either saluted or placed their right hand over their heart as the processional came into view.
The crowd grew silent as the processional came to a stop outside the funeral home.
Hancock's family stood holding one another as the casket was unloaded by Marines in dress uniform to be transported into the funeral home where they were able to spend time alone with their loved one.
Funeral home owner John Callahan said the family did the best they could under the circumstances.
"His mom asked me to tell the media that Steven was all about serving this country, and living the life of a good Christian," Callahan said in a phone call later Wednesday.
Visitation for Lance Cpl. Steven Hancock will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursday at First Christian Church, 455 W. Southmor Road, Morris.
A Celebration of Steven's Life will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at First Christian Church, with burial to follow at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Full Military Honors will be conducted by the United States Marine Corps.