EATONTON -- Tim Bailey first met Erica Alecksen when, during her senior year of high school, Alecksen’s mother invited him to a small party at their house.
At their initial meeting, the two hit it off, and Bailey stopped by the house the next day. He stopped by the day after that and then again the next day. Their visits became a regular thing, and the two married in February 2010, just before Alecksen was set to deploy with the Army as a military police officer.
On Wednesday afternoon, Bailey, the Alecksen family and a huge crowd of family and friends packed into First United Methodist Church in Eatonton to celebrate the life of Army Spc. Erica Alecksen, 21, who was killed last week by a roadside bomb in the Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan.
“She was the best person I’ve ever met,” Bailey said. “She had this personality -- if you were having a bad day and she was around you, your day got better.”
Tempest Foster, who graduated with Alecksen from Putnam County High School in 2009, said Alecksen “was cool.”
“She always made people laugh. She had a great personality and was very smart,” Foster said.
Foster, who served with Alecksen in their high school’s ROTC program, said Alecksen was always interested in the Army.
During the service, the Rev. Dave Hinson recalled many aspects of Alecksen’s character: her faith, her tomboyish tendencies, her ability to fix anything on four wheels and her pride in wearing an Army uniform.
“In her short life, she accomplished more than people who lived four times as long,” Hinson told the crowd.
The funeral featured numerous remembrances by family members and friends, as well as a musical tribute from two of her cousins and a friend who performed the songs “Faithfully” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by the rock band Journey.
Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver remembered the time he told Alecksen about Army life after she decided to explore the military as an option.
“She was a very focused young lady, very thoughtful,” Rodeheaver told the crowd.
When he explained to her how the military was built around the concept of teams, she informed him, “I want to be on the team that provides security and safety to the other military members.”
Rodeheaver came away so impressed with Alecksen that he presented her one of his general’s coins. He presented a second coin to the family on Wednesday.
Julia McKelvey, speaking for all of Alecksen’s cousins, said the nine cousins were more like brothers and sisters.
“You know how much she loved you every time she spoke to you,” McKelvey said. “The beauty and love and kindness inside her was so immense that they had nowhere to go but on the outside.”
Members of the Army presented the Alecksen family with six medals she earned during her deployment, including the Good Conduct Medal, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Blue Star Mothers and the Freedom Riders also made presentations to the family.
Earlier in the day, Alecksen’s remains landed at the airport in Greensboro. A motorcade then took her to the church as hundreds of flags lined the route.
Alecksen’s Aunt Lydia Ivanditti said about 2,600 flags were to line parts of the route from the airport to Eatonton. Family members were part of a motorcade from the airport.
The funeral, with full military honors, was to feature a 21-gun salute.
Lars Alecksen, Erica’s father, said the support he has received from locals and from people across the country has been a blessing to the family.
“We’re coping with the help and support of a lot of family and friends,” he said. “People from across the country that I’ve never heard of have contacted me. It’s been a good cushion from reality.”
Telegraph photographer Beau Cabell contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.