CHESTERTON | It was a sunny but sad day Monday as hundreds filed into Bethlehem Lutheran Church to pay their last respects to Army Spc. James A. Butz.
"They are a wonderful family, and it's really a sad thing," Lenore Binkowski, of Chesterton, said. "You see things in the paper of other boys killed over there, but this really hits home. Their grandfather John 'Pop' Butz Sr. was so close to the boys, and he's really taking this hard."
Lorri McWharter, also of Chesterton, said James Butz was a friend of her son.
"It's bittersweet," McWharter said of the day. "He was only 21 years old, but he did what he wanted to do. Before he left he said he was willing to die for his country."
The drive leading into the church parking lot was lined with U.S. flags as the steady stream of vehicles entered. Visitation started at 1 p.m., and by 1:30 the parking lot was full to overflowing. And still the people kept coming.
After paying his respects to Butz in the church, Chesterton resident Matt Handzlik pulled his van into a field across the street. The message on the side window said, "Thanks for your service. We will never forget you." Handzlik draped a flag on the windshield and placed two more on the van and spent the afternoon in his solitary salute to Butz.
Handzlik said he didn't know the Butz family but decided to do his individual tribute Thursday after learning of plans to bring the body to Chesterton. As the caravan of vehicles escorted the body from the airport along Ind. 49 on Saturday, he stationed his van on the route in a similar salute.
"I'm doing it out of respect," he said. "He died for our freedom, and I owe him that much to sit out here. It's not a waste of time."
Handzlik said a lot of people honked in support of his roadside tribute Saturday. He also talking to a lot of the businesses in Chesterton about putting messages of tribute on their signs. Only one business refused.
"I think the entire town should have come out," he said. "I'd be out here even if it was raining, but it would wash the sign off my window because it's just water colors."
Butz, a combat medic, was killed in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device as he ran to help two wounded soldiers, who also died in the attack. A 2009 graduate of Chesterton High School, he was deployed to Afghanistan in June.
The funeral service is 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church, 2050 County Road 1100 North. Burial at the Chesterton Cemetery will follow.