Hundreds of Strangers Gather to Honor Fallen Soldier

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FORT WALTON BEACH-- In Fort Walton Beach, hundreds of people spent Sunday afternoon outside a funeral home supporting the family and friends of a fallen soldier.

Sergeant First Class Samuel Hairston was killed August 12 in Afghanistan. Supporter Barbie Adams said, "I wouldn't be any place else, but supporting this man."

Hairston was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He grew up in Shalimar and graduated from Choctawhatchee High in 1997.

Most of his supporters are complete strangers, holding their signs and waiving their flags for hours in 100 degree heat. Louis Luna, another supporter said, "He's a solider that served in the same unit that I had, so I just wanted to come any pay my respects in any way that I could."

One group of people in particular made of a bulk of the crowd. James Bass, Emerald Coast Funeral Manager, said, "We have probably 150 if not more of the Patriot Riders that are here to show their support."

Family said Hairston always had a positive attitude and was driven to be the best leader he could be. "We are just honored that we can be of serve to this family. It's certainly our caring that can make a difference in the suffering and the struggling that they've gone through," Bass said.

The Westboro Baptist Church claimed its members would protest Hairston's funeral Sunday, but they never showed up. Hairston leaves behind his wife and son.