Sgt. Austin David Pratt traveled down the roads of Washington County one last time Saturday on a route that was paved in red, white and blue — and baseball.
Tammy and Lewis Smith used duct tape to plaster a Mineral Area Baseball uniform to their mailbox and another to a tree in front of their house on Highway 21.
“My husband coached Austin when he was little,” said Tammy. “He was a good kid.”
Though her family would be having a Christmas dinner inside, she said they would come outside to stand in tribute to Austin as his funeral procession passed by.
Down the street from Moore Funeral Home, Cameron Richards handed out flags to everyone who stood on the sidewalk. Mary Beth DeClue, Austin’s cousin, held a big flag by herself and wore a Cardinals shirt.
“He sure did love baseball,” she said.
Eric McCoy, 13, and his cousin Matt wore Cards shirts and waved flags.
“He played on my church’s softball team last summer,” said Eric. “He was good in the outfield. I kept score for the games.”
Stacy Sublett sat on the sidewalk to look at a memorial program for Austin from the funeral home.
“I’m here because his older sister Angie is my best friend and I worked with him at McDonald’s a long time ago,” said Stacy. “I know four other people over in Iraq. It’s sad.”
Flags flew in front of St. James Catholic Church where the bells pealed at noon, just as the funeral procession began. The hearse carrying Sgt. Pratt’s body eased onto the street and between an honor guard from VFW Post 6996. The procession was led by members of the Patriot Guard, motorcycle riders whose flags would help shield the family against protesters. There were none in sight. About 100 Guard members took part in the tribute either during the procession or at the cemetery.
Along the six-mile route from the funeral home to St. Joachim Catholic Church, there were touching tributes of patriotism. Ribbons in red, white and blue were attached to a street sign. Members of one family lined up to hold one big flag. Others held small ones. Old men took off their hats. Some saluted. Other mourners put their hands over their hearts as the procession passed by. Tiny flags lined stretches of Highway 21.
Some of the cars that were part of the long line had messages written on them in tribute.
“We love you Austin.”
“We are proud of you, Sgt. Pratt.” “Our hero.”
The procession traveled under ladders on fire trucks from De Soto and Farmington Fire Departments that flew a huge flag tied between them. A group of kids dressed in Potosi Trojan purple and gold — school colors Austin had worn — waved flags.
After the procession passed, some who had stood in tribute got in their cars and followed it to the church. At one point, the stream of cars down Highway 21 seemed endless.
Others who had stood downtown took their flags and added them to the growing memorial in front of city hall. It will remain through the holidays.