Patrick McGovern watched the honor escort from MacDill Air Force Base make its way past police headquarters Wednesday.
The last time he saw the woman in the casket in the white hearse, she was a little girl in a pink dress sitting in her father’s office. Now her body was being brought to Lawson Funeral Home.
"She was a bright little girl," said McGovern, recalling Brittany Bria Gordon, an Army specialist killed in Afghanistan on Oct. 13 by a suicide bomber. Gordon, who joined the Army in 2010, was the first woman from the Tampa area killed in combat in Afghanistan or Iraq.
For more than 20 years, McGovern, a St. Petersburg police officer, worked for Gordon’s father, Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon.
On Wednesday, McGovern was one of more than 200 people who came out to pay respects to 24-year-old Gordon, who was an accomplished athlete and musician and fluent in French.
McGovern recently visited Cedric Gordon’s house to offer condolences and support. "He is a strong man," said McGovern, "but nothing can prepare you for this."
A few feet away, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster stood in the street, his right hand over his heart. He, too, watched as the long line of police motorcycles, followed by the hearse and then a veterans motorcycle group, rumbled by.
The procession drove under a massive U.S. flag hung over First Avenue North between two firetrucks.
"It is sad," Foster said, choking back a sob. "Very sad."
Before the arrival of the motorcade, Foster recalled how his daughter, Christine, looked up to Gordon when the two played basketball at St. Petersburg High School.
"Christine played junior varsity, and Brittany played varsity," Foster said. "She was a great role model for my daughter."
And for the city and nation, too, he said.
"She was born to serve," said Foster, who counts her family among his friends. "She gave her life to protect others. It was an incredible journey for such a young lady."
Foster said he has joined the ranks of those calling for troops to come home as soon as possible, ahead of the 2014 deadline set by President Barack Obama for the withdrawal of combat troops.
"I am siding with (Rep. C.W.) Bill Young," Foster said.
Young called for an early withdrawal after receiving an email complaining about conditions in Afghanistan from a Largo soldier, Staff Sgt. Matt Sitton, who later was killed by an improvised explosive device.
Foster said two factors contributed to his thinking.
Gordon, he said, was the first person he knew who was killed in combat. "That really brings it home," he said.
Then there was the way she was killed. The New York Times reported an Afghan intelligence officer blew himself up in a suicide attack, killing six. Gordon was among the dead, Young said.
"When your own start to take your lives, it is time to get out of there," Foster said.
Gordon was an intelligence analyst with the 572nd Military Intelligence Company, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
Before enlisting, she excelled at swimming, sailing, windsurfing, golf, soccer and basketball and played the piano and alto saxophone, said her mother, Brenda Thompson Gordon. She was a member of her high school marching band and community band and studied French in Morocco and Canada.
Gordon attended the University of Florida and St. Petersburg College before joining the Army. She planned on continuing her education after leaving the military, her family said.
A memorial service for Gordon will be held at 6 p.m. today in the Wireman Chapel at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S. There will be a wake at 6 p.m. Friday at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, 1301 37th St. S., St. Petersburg, and a funeral at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church.
Interment will be at Sunset Memory Gardens near Thonotosassa.