WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- People crowded Market Street outside First Baptist Church in Wilmington today during Sgt. T.J. Butler's funeral.
Supporters from near and far lined the street to show respect for the fallen soldier and his family. His story hit close to home for many of them.
It was a somber, but patriotic show along Market Street. Hundreds of people held flags and stood quietly as Sgt. Butler's casket headed to the church and later on to his final resting place in Wilmington National Cemetery.
Most among the crowd likely never knew Butler, but now know of his ultimate sacrifice.
"Right after we got married my husband went to Iraq, and it's always your biggest fear that you're going to get a call saying that they won't come home. And it just hit close to home with me," Amy Albertson said.
Other supporters wanted to make sure they out-numbered expected protesters.
"T.J. Butler gave his life to protect the rights of the demonstrators that I understand are up the road between here and the cemetery, and he gave his life to protect their rights," Terry Renshaw said.
The people who stood and watched were young and old. A 14-year-old girl missed her school dance to pay tribute to a man she never knew. She and her brother made the shirts they wore. The message: "They fight for us, we'll stand for them."
The main message most supporters wanted to send was to the Butler family. It was a message that is simple yet strong: That hopefully in this difficult time, the family can find peace in the support of its community.
"I hope they get some solace from the turnout of this community and support of the citizens here in Wilmington," Maria Bernwinkler said.
Members of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS, were expected to protest the funeral. Police tell us four or five members did show up, but they kept a low profile because they were so outnumbered by Sgt. Butler's supporters.