Soldier returns home | NevadaAppeal.com

Soldier returns home

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Army Honor Guardsmen carry the casket of Army Pfc. Brandon Williams off the plane at Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Monday evening. Williams was killed by sniper fire Oct. 9 while serving a mission with the 101st Airborne Division in Baghdad, Iraq.

RENO – They came to bring their son and brother home.

In the cold Monday night on the tarmac of the Reno International Airport, dozens of law enforcement officers, servicemembers and family accepted the flag-draped coffin of Army police officer Pfc. Phillip Brandon Williams.

The 21-year-old Gardnerville native, killed by sniper fire Oct. 9 in Iraq, made his final trip home on a United Airlines flight that arrived in Reno just before 7 p.m.

With passengers aboard the plane and people in the terminal watching from windows, the soldier’s family huddled together out of cold and grief as an Army honor guard of six marched to collect Williams’ silver coffin.

Flanked by law enforcement and solders standing at attention was Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Williams, 20, who escorted his brother’s body the 2,700 miles home from Dover, Del.

The younger Williams, who is part of a funeral honor guard in Washington D.C., was temporarily assigned to the Army to escort Brandon’s casket.

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“He wanted to do it,” said uncle Brian Williams, a sergeant with the Salt Lake Tahoe Police Department. “And the Marine Corps made it happen.”

Brandon is the first servicemember from the Lake Tahoe, Douglas and Carson City area to lose his life in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is the 39th U.S. military personnel with ties to Nevada to have died in the nation’s wars overseas since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Brian Williams, who has kept himself busy by being strong for his own brother – Brad, Brandon’s father and also a South Lake Tahoe police sergeant – found himself Monday quietly recognizing it was all too real.

“I’ve looked up to my brother my whole life. To see him sobbing over losing his first-born son …” he said before the words became caught in his throat. “He’s holding up because he’s being held up by our family and by the community.”

Two soldiers entered the aircraft’s cargo bay and delivered the coffin to a conveyor belt. Below, six others received it and carried it to a hearse. From there, a line of 20 vehicles, emergency lights flashing, made the journey to Gardnerville.

For Brian Williams, the outpouring of support, plus the unquestionable love of country by the man they were there to honor, should be enough to buoy his family through these times.

“Brandon – what a source of pride. He has honored our family name, our nation and our American way of life,” said Brian Williams. “Everyone recognizes this is an American loss, not just a family loss.”

Brandon’s funeral will be at Douglas High School in Minden at 11 a.m. Saturday.

• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.