It's Jimmy Waters' America
WHITELAND -- He was called a hero. An inspiration to all those with whom he shared locker rooms or Army barracks.
He was called a brother in arms. A great son. A perfect soldier. A true American.
If James A. "Jimmy" Waters had heard all that ... if he had seen all the hoopla in his honor ... if he had known about all of the people he had never met who came to see him Saturday ... what would he have thought?
"He'd probably be mad," his father, Garry Waters of Cloverdale, said. "Quiet but mad.
"That wasn't him," his father simplified.
Neither was it Garry and Valerie Waters' way to command the center of attention they have been forced into since they began to live a parent's worst nightmare more than a week ago.
Yet they soldiered on, shouldering their own burdens and going along with all the public ceremonies evolving from a private tragedy. After all, they knew full well it was probably the last thing they could ever do for their 21-year-old son who died in combat July 1 in Afghanistan.
"We don't want to take somebody's blessing away," Garry Waters said of the ceremonies Saturday. "He died for them."
Waters -- who moved his family to Cloverdale shortly after Jimmy, his eldest son, graduated from Whiteland Community High School in 2008 -- was stunned at the outpouring of emotion from the community, Indiana and the country.
"People wanted to walk down the street with him," he said of the impressive scene of more than 100 mourners following the horse-drawn caisson carrying his son's casket from Jessen Funeral Home, down U.S. 31 to Tracy Road and on to the high school.
"He's a fallen hero," his father reasoned, his voice barely above a whisper.
The situation brought grown men, veteran coaches even, to tears. Caused longtime pastors to choke on their words as they tried to bring religious perspective to the proceedings. And left family and friends emotionally drained and still trying to deal with "why" more than "how."
"Jimmy probably touched more people in his 21 years than most people do in a lifetime," Rev. Mickey Roy said as he officiated the funeral service in the Whiteland gym. He didn't ask for an amen, but undoubtedly could have gotten about 750 of them from those packing the bleachers and padded folding cheers.
One of Jimmy's former coaches, Rob Merchant who guided the middle school wrestling program when Waters was involved, related that Jimmy "understood that his role as an individual was critical to the success of the group."
"Those was the same qualities that made him a great son, brother and teammate," he continued. "I'm not a military man, but he had to be a heck of a soldier, too.
"I know that as a soldier, Jimmy Waters, was going to do everything his country asked him to do every day, even in harm's way."
Members of his unit have conveyed just how true that is, and that he made the ultimate sacrifice because of it.
"'Thank you' isn't even close," Merchant offered, "but it's all I have."
One member of Waters' Fort Drum, N.Y., unit emailed the family to share his feelings of disbelief.
Jimmy's passing, he said, "just made things a whole lot scarier here."
"If something like this can happen to a guy like that, you never know what might happen to you."
In Jimmy Waters' America, the little guy doesn't get pushed around without being protected. The world is a safer place. A better place. A place steeped in love of family, friends and country.
He'd be proud to know he's had some small part in keeping that belief alive.