The backdrop could just as easily been a painting by Norman Rockwell. There were young mothers pushing baby strollers; old friends and classmates reminiscing or shaking hands or hugging each other; all gathered around an immaculate baseball field Saturday at Loganville Middle School.
Typical reunion-style dialogue echoed in the fading light of evening: "You haven't changed at bit....how's your sister doing?.....are you still teaching?....it's so good to see you....let's get together."
And there was laughter, lots of laughter, until the moment came to take a seat in the bleachers. Then the tears started to flow.
Family, friends, and classmates sat quietly during the candlelight vigil as a few kind words and prayers were offered for Maj. Walter David Gray of Conyers and Loganville, one of three American warriors killed in Afghanistan last week by a suicide bomber.
An Air Force liaison officer with 19 years of service, a husband and the father of three small children, Maj. Gray was 39 years old. His family and friends called him David.
The same words spoken by different people described an outstanding young warrior: "His smile lit up the room." "David was competitive, hated to lose." "A good hard-hitting football player." "He always thought of others, not himself." "Lived like every day would be his last." "Absolutely selfless." "Willing to give his all for God, family, and country." And poignantly, "This is not the way we wanted to say goodbye."
Gray's best friend and head coach of Walnut Grove High School, O.J. Soto, said, "My fondest memories were our high school days. David was always in great shape, a real competitor, but we were good kids. I think the only bad thing we ever did was ‘borrow' a few mailbox reflectors. And he loved to doodle in class, incredible stuff, very talented."
"David told me more than once his dream was to retire from the military and come back here to teach and coach with me," said Soto.
Ronnie Gray, when asked to describe his older brother, simply replied, "Superman."
The Grays grew up on the Rockdale-Walton county line on Miller Bottom Road and the brothers attended Loganville High School, though they had a Conyers address.
Gray's classmate from the 1992 graduating class of Loganville High School, Carolyn Woods, organized the vigil within 24 hours.
"We had expected just a few classmates," she said. More than 300 people turned out to pay their respects.
Spotless emergency vehicles and fire trucks from Loganville and Walton County lso attended and were properly chocked and parked in a manner to show appreciation for a job well-done. Fire fighters dressed in dark cobalt kept a watchful eye on the crowd.
The LHS Class of '92 is setting up trusts for Gray's three children. For information on how to donate to the trust funds, contact Woods at 770-883-5893.
Services will be held in Fort Carson, Colorado. Gray will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
The conclusion of the eulogy defined the major with the verse from the Bible, John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, freelance writer and columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.