ST. JAMES, Mo. – Communities from St. Louis to St. James supported the homecoming of a fallen U.S. Army soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Rusten Radford Smith, with a procession to the funeral home where he will be prepared to be laid to rest.
The Black Hawk pilot killed in training is now remembered as a hero dedicated to serving his country and tragically paying the ultimate price.
Arriving at St. Louis Lambert International Airport, service members proudly escorted the American flag-wrapped casket on Wednesday. The somber procession was making its way onto the highway going south.
Crowds paid tribute the whole way to Smith’s hometown in St. James, Missouri, where he received a heartfelt welcome. The flag is at half-staff at the funeral home where he now resides.
“You had police, fire, EMS out here, you had citizens, business owners, they shut their business down to come and stand on the street,” said Ken Kelly with the Patriot Guard Riders. “It is heartwarming to see what we saw today.”
Smith, 32, was an instructor pilot for the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He was among nine soldiers who died in a nighttime training accident aboard the Black Hawk helicopters that collided on March 29. Both Smith and his fellow soldier, Zachary Esparza, were from Missouri.
“It will bring a tear to your eye seeing the patriotism of the community coming together,” said Keith Livingstone with the Patriot Guard Riders.
The whole town is decked out in red, white, and blue to wrap its arms around a family and a community now in mourning.
Smith leaves behind a wife and three children.
“It brings a sense of comradery and a sense of devotion towards America and the communities and the families of all the fallen soldiers,” said Mark Ehlen, a St. James resident.
Visitation for Smith will be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the St. James Middle School gym before he is laid to rest.