CHESTERTON | U.S. Army Spc. James Butz received a solemn hero's welcome from friends and strangers alike as his body was returned home to his family Saturday morning.
The jet carrying Butz's body arrived about 10:55 a.m. at the Porter County Regional Airport in Valparaiso. A hawk soared ahead of the jet, as though bringing it in for a landing.
The combat medic was killed Sept. 28 by an improvised explosive device when he rushed to the aid of two wounded troop members, who also died in the attack in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
Butz, 21, of Porter, joined the Army in 2009 after graduating from Chesterton High School. He was deployed to Afghanistan in June.
Butz's body returned to Porter County soil as the crowds that had gathered to welcome him home fell silent on an unseasonably warm, breezy morning. Members of the Patriot Guard created an aisle with American flags as the private jet taxied between two Chesterton firetrucks.
His flag-draped casket was moved into a hangar beneath a huge American flag, where family members spent about 30 minutes privately with the body before the procession to the funeral home in Chesterton began.
More than 250 Patriot Guard members on motorcycles escorted Butz's body for the procession into Chesterton that included police and fire vehicles from throughout the region.
The procession from the airport wound through parts of Valparaiso, Porter and Chesterton before arriving at White-Love Funeral Home, 525 S. Second St., Chesterton, just before 1 p.m.
Family members requested that local businesses fly their flags at half-staff and that supporters line the procession route to show their support.
Hundreds of supporters answered the call, many dressed in red, white and blue and holding American flags.
Supporters put their hands over their hearts and fell silent as the procession passed. Many removed their hats while others saluted. A group of Boy Scouts stood on an Ind. 49 overpass to watch. Families stopped their cars on the side of the highway and waved flags.
In downtown Chesterton, signs on businesses honored Butz, and flags flew at half-staff.
Members of Chesterton High's football team wore their jerseys and lined up along the route with their coaches to support the former Trojan player.
Among those in the crowd were Adam O'Hara, 18, who graduated from Chesterton High School in 2010. O'Hara knows the Butz family well and is friends with Butz's younger brother, Will.
"He really looked up to his older brother," said O'Hara, clad in a football jersey.
Chris Richardson, freshman football coach for Chesterton, said coming to the procession dressed in jerseys was the team's idea.
Richardson coached Butz in middle school in wrestling and football.
"Jim was an energetic young man who worked really hard, was always punctual and made everyone around him a better person because of his work ethic," Richardson said.
Cheryl Miller, of Chesterton, sat across from Town Hall with her husband, a Vietnam veteran, and 88-year-old father, a World War II veteran, waiting for the procession.
"I can't think about him and his family without crying," she said. "My husband, the Vietnam vets, didn't get this kind of welcome, yet those are the first ones to show up."
Meredith Nevers, of Chesterton, brought her two daughters -- Kate, 8, and Andie, 7 -- to see Butz's procession.
"I just felt very affected that this kid took it upon himself to join up," Nevers said, tearing up. "I think it's important for (my daughters) to learn what heroes are. They're everyday kids who go out and do amazing things for their country."