Tuesday was an emotional day for Crystal Beale, as she welcomed home members of the military platoon who served with her deceased husband, John.
"They were like our family," the McDonough widow said. "For me personally, it was like closure, because they came home, and he wasn't getting off the plane with them. I had to see them, support them, and show them, on John's behalf, that I was there."
Sgt. 1st Class John Beale was a member of the Georgia National Guard's 48th Brigade, 1st Battalion, 108th Reconnaissance platoon group, which was deployed to the Middle East in April of 2009.
Sgt. Beale died June 4 as a result of an ambush near Kapisa, Afghanistan.
More than 600 men in her late husband's platoon came through Henry County Tuesday, after returning home from Afghanistan March. 1. Troopers from the Georgia State Patrol escorted the soldiers' cavalry unit from Fort Stewart, through the Atlanta area, to Canton, Dalton, Cedartown, Rome and Calhoun.
"I hope they know they are respected, supported, and very well-loved," said Crystal Beale.
State Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough), a major supporter of efforts to honor Beale's ultimate military service, agreed with the soldier's widow.
"We just want them to know that we love them, and appreciate them, and we're glad they're home," said Davis. "We had one (Sgt. Beale) that paid the ultimate price, and he wasn't the only one."
Sgt. Beale was one of three National Guardsmen who perished in an Afghan ambush last year. Others who died in the attack were Maj. Kevin Jenrette, of Lula, Ga., and Spc. Jeffrey William Jordan, of Rome, Ga., according to retired National Guard Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski.
"All three were killed when their vehicle was struck by an [improvised explosive device], and they were subsequently attacked by enemy forces using small-arms fire," Baldowski said.
Staff Sgt. Jim Wilson, 41, of Ellijay, Ga., who served with Beale, and was among the nine busloads of soldiers heading home, said some of his fellow soldiers appeared to have "cold chills and moisture in the eyes" when members of the Clayton County Police Department provided a rolling roadblock along a portion of the route.
"It was their way of showing respect to us. This was my fifth combat tour, and that was one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me when I came home," said Wilson. "It was a great welcome back to Georgia."