Hundreds turned out to mourn and remember Army Sgt. JaBraun S. Knox, 23, at his funeral Tuesday at the National Military History Center in Auburn.
Knox, a 2007 DeKalb High School graduate, was killed with another soldier May 18 in Afghanistan by an enemy rocket which struck a supply of artillery shells.
The entrance to the museum was flanked by Patriot Guard members who lined the driveway with American flags. The crowd began arriving around 12:30 and continued in a steady stream until the 2 p.m. service began.
"He protected the freedoms we enjoy. He was my favorite soldier,” said one of his former teachers from Prairie Heights who spoke to the gathering.
The teacher said Knox inspired him. He said Knox taught him to treasure every moment with his children.
"He loved us all and put the needs of the many ahead of his own," he said.
Knox's widow, Courtney Knox, and his mother, Kelly Knox, spoke to reporters Thursday afternoon in Auburn.
"JaBraun is certainly a hero, and I am so glad that his story is able to be told," Courtney Knox said.
Courtney Knox recalled her husband as a man always willing to help people, and said that he had been a wonderful father to their infant son, Braylon, in the short leave time available to him.
Most poignantly, she recalled his visit with them last month. As Knox left, he told his wife that they were in the “home stretch,” that he was more than halfway through his deployment and would be reunited with them soon.
Kelly Knox said her son was enormously proud of his military service, even to the point of unnerving her with his enthusiasm for being trained in more hazardous jobs.
“He was very proud to be in the military,” his mother recalled. “He never could say enough about it.”
Knox had served in the Army for more than three years and was based at Fort Lewis, Wash. He recently returned to Afghanistan after a 15-day leave.
Knox had been stationed in Afghanistan since November 2011 with the First Battalion 377 Field Artillery Regiment, whose soldiers provide supporting fire for outlying posts and infantry movements.
The family requested that media not attend the funeral and also requested that they not attend the graveside service. The funeral at the church lasted for about an hour, after which a procession traveled down Tonkel Road to the Highland Park Cemetery for a graveside military funeral.
As the long line of cars streamed out of the parking lot on their way to the cemetery, they passed under an enormous American flag held aloft by two ladder fire trucks.