Visalia comes out to honor a fallen soldier

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The remains of a 19-year-old Valley soldier killed in action are now back home in Visalia. (KFSN)

The remains of a 19-year-old Valley soldier killed in action are now back home in Visalia. Hundreds lined the streets to pay their respects and show support for his family.

Army Pfc. Keith Williams was killed last month by an improvised explosive device while serving a tour in Afghanistan.

Few people understand the gut-wrenching grief the Williams family is faced with right now. Still, so many showed up, armed with flags, salutes, and of course tears.

The sister of a fallen Marine, Ashley Verbeek said, "Just as a sibling I know how it feels and I want them to know that I'm here for them, as a foundation, as a support, whatever they need. To let them know what he sacrificed isn't forgotten and I know exactly what kind of pain they're dealing with."

Verbeek is one of the few who knows the feeling of lost -- the pain that eases, but never quite goes away. Her brother, 22-year-old Marine Corporal Jared Verbeek was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan three years ago. She and a friend held a sign showing their promise to remember Williams.

The remains of Army Pfc. Keith Williams arrived at the Visalia airport in the afternoon. Dozens of Patriot Guard members rode along the procession. They were met with hundreds of somber faces as Williams' remains were escorted through his hometown. They rode past his high school, El Diamante, where he graduated from in 2013.

Kevin Bergum says Williams was the class clown, always cracking jokes and brightening a room. The two were friends since the second grade.

"He was like a brother to me, and it's real hard," said Bergum. "But I love him and he died a hero."

A hero, now surrounded by his family, and so many strangers who appreciate his great sacrifice.

Exeter resident Ann Essepian said, "When we heard the news we sat there and literally cried, because he was so young."

Diane Essepian said, "It was very heartbreaking and I told my mom we need to go out there and show our support for them."

Williams is survived by his parents and two sisters.

The family is inviting the public to his services this Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at the Visalia First Assembly on Caldwell and Akers. Following that, ceremonial honors will be held at El Diamante High School.

Williams' father said it was heartwarming to see the community come together, and show love for his son. The family is starting a scholarship fund at the Education Employees Credit Union in Visalia.

The family also wants to send care packages to soldiers deployed to Afghanistan. You can bring non-perishable items to the services this weekend.

Related Topics:
tulare countyarmysoldier killedafghanistanVisalia
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