Mother meets soldier's flag-draped casket

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —She stood strong on the tarmac Friday, waiting for her son's chartered jet to reach Kansas City. Her left hand gripped a friend's jacket.

But the memories of what she had lost etched themselves in the face of Ann Smith, mother of Sgt. Aaron M. Smith, the most recent soldier from Kansas killed in war.

Twice, the Kansas City woman had seen her boy deployed. He had told her he believed in his mission.

Family members gathered in a circle, bracing against the cold autumn wind, squinting skyward. Sisters. Aunts. Nieces. Aaron Smith's father, Christopher, stood there, too. Though divorced from Aaron's mother, he held her in grief for a moment, wearing his blue ball cap with the gold Iraqi Veteran embroidered on its bill.

A plane's engine whine grew. The Falcon 20 shuttled to a stop at Kansas City International Airport. An honor guard from Fort Leavenworth snapped to attention, white gloves brilliant, uniforms knife-creased. Behind it stood more than 50 motorcyclists, most holding U.S. flags. Known as the Patriot Guard, many were veterans who had volunteered to escort their soldier brother's remains to the funeral home.

Smith, 25, was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

He was raised in many places, as his Army father was transferred. Still, Smith called Manhattan home. The place where he graduated from high school. The place he dreamed where his next life's chapter would begin. His plans for after Afghanistan were to build homes as a carpenter.

According to new reports, an Afghan police officer Oct. 2 killed Smith and Pfc. Brandon A. Owens, 21, of Memphis, Tenn.. The Department of Defense says the two were killed by enemy small-arms fire.

A low hum sounded. A plane door opened. A quick command by an officer in the honor guard edged the unit closer. Many hands carried the flag-draped casket.

The flag, so familiar with its stripes and stars and all that it represented in this moment...

And it was too much.

A mother wept, her sobs catching in her throat, destroying whatever words she had hoped to share.

Only later, through a spokesman, would she reveal what her heart was feeling: "He cared for people and they liked him.... He was my special boy."