Hundreds of people gathered in Alden this Veterans Day for an observance like no other.
They were there to honor Sgt. Brett E. Gornewicz, an Army reservist who was among three soldiers killed when a roadside bomb exploded in Afghanistan on Nov. 3. His flag-draped coffin returned to his hometown Sunday morning in a procession that started at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Traveling east along Broadway, the motorcade passed Virginia Drive, where Gornewicz grew up and his family still lives. Several people stood at the corner, American flags in hand.
The group included Maryclare Smith, a neighbor and longtime friend of Margaret Gornewicz, the 27-year-old soldier’s mother.
“It’s very sad,” said Smith, whose eyes were red-rimmed and teary. “We’re bringing him home.”
Also there were Lynne and Ron Roberts. They live elsewhere in Alden, but Virginia Drive is part of Lynne’s route as a mail carrier and she said the Gornewiczs are friends.
“We have all known their son for years,” said Ron Roberts.
Farther east, Jessica Lesniak had parked along Four Rod Road and wrapped a flag around a utility pole. She had her dogs, Semper and Fi, with her.
“My dad and my fiance are both Marines,” she said. “I heard the story on the news. I thought I should come out and give some support.”
The crowd swelled inside the village, where a giant flag was suspended between fire trucks. People lined the median and south curb of the street.
It was shortly after 10 a.m. when the procession reached the village. Many in the crowd saluted or placed their right hands over their hearts as the hearse passed; several wiped tears from their faces.
The procession included dozens of motorcycles ridden by members of the Patriot Guard Riders, as well as police cars representing several agencies. It took approximately five minutes for the entire procession to pass, after which it doubled back to the Charles Meyer Funeral Home, where Gornewicz’s wake was held Sunday.
A church bell tolled and a hush fell over the crowd as the coffin was removed from the hearse, then carried beneath a canopy of flags into the funeral home. The crowd remained for several minutes, and began to disperse only after members of Gornewicz’s family were escorted away from the short walkway leading to the funeral home.