LAKE GEORGE - Citizens of the region paid respects Monday to the life, service and ultimate sacrifice of Army Specialist Benjamin Osborn, as a ceremonial motorcade carried his body through Queensbury and Lake George where the soldier was raised and schooled.
A 2002 graduate of Lake George and until recently a resident of North Queensbury, Osborn was killed in combat June 15 in Afghanistan - the result of an ambush.
Throughout the 28-mile route, many hundreds of citizens congregated along the roadways, waving flags, holding signs paying tribute, and saluting as the hearse and Osborn family members and friends passed by in the solemn procession.
His body was flown in by charter jet to Warren County's Floyd Bennett airport Monday morning. The plane arrived at about 9:15 a.m. and members of a military honor guard carried his flag-draped casket between rows of American flags held high by members of the regional Patriot Guard motorcycle group.
Kristen Lace of Long Lake and her sisters Karrah Gereau and Kate Slentz, cousins of Osborn, broke into sobs as they watched the casket being lowered from the jet. We're so proud of him and his service to the nation," she said. "We're going to miss him so much - he gave the best hugs."
Bob McAvoy of Glens Falls watched as the casket was seemingly engulfed by dozens of American flags in the patriotic display.
"Ben Osborn gave everything for us, so we need to be here for him and his family," McAvoy said.
Family members and friends gathered in a cordoned-off area at the airport, receiving Ben's body, as state, federal, county and local officials paid their respects. Among them were Warren County supervisors Frank McCoy of Lake George, Ron Conover of Bolton, Red Pitkin of Thurman, Kevin Geraghty of Warrensburg, Frank Thomas of Stony Creek, and Dan Stec, Fred Champagne and Dave Strainer of Queensbury. They were joined by Lake George Village Mayor Robert Blais, state Sen. Betty Little, and U.S. Rep. Scott Murphy of Glens Falls.
Soon afterwards, the procession - led by a dozen or so state and county police cars and about 100 motorcyclists including the Patriot Guards - pulled out of the airport. The gathered politicians rode in a trolley near the rear of the motorcade.
In the airport driveway, the motorcade passed underneath a giant American flag, draped from atop tower truck ladders of the Queensbury Central and Kingsbury fire companies. Firefighters in formal attire from Lake George, North Queensbury, Queensbury Central, Bay Ridge, South Queensbury, West Glens Falls and Pilot Knob all stood at attention as the hearse exited the airport. Most of these firefighters joined in the procession.
From the airport, the motorcade headed up Queensbury Avenue onto Hicks Rd., then north on Ridge Rd.
At the intersection of Ridge and Oak Valley roads - near the Osborn family home - the hearse pulled underneath a giant American flag flown in tribute by the Kingsbury Fire Co. from their tower truck.
The motorcade then proceeded up Rte. 9L through the communities along the east side of Lake George.
At various marinas, vacationers, employees and boaters - some clad only in trunks - gathered and waved flags as Osborn passed by.
One man, standing several feet in the roadway, held his arm straight out into traffic as he turned his head and sobbed. Another stood atop the cab of his pickup, waving a large flag.
At intersection after intersection along the route, people saluted or held their hands or caps over their hearts - many in tears - while others waved American flags, bearing somber expressions. Many wiped tears from their eyes.
County and state police officers on duty to redirect traffic at intersections, paused to give formal salutes as the motorcade passed by.
At Cleverdale Rd., as large contingent of North Queensbury firefighters, saluting and in full dress, were lined up in a diagonal formation. A crowd gathered on the opposite corner of the intersection to pay their respects.
North of Bay Rd., a group of young adults held up an American Flag with metallic duct tape on it, bearing the message "Thank You, Ben."
Farther west, groups of people gathered in front of the East Cove Restaurant and the American Legion Post 374 to salute Osborn.
The motorcade passed by where Ben had been schooled for seven of his early years - Lake George Elementary School. There, schoolchildren and staff pressed against the chain-lank fence, waving flags in Osborn's honor.
At the corner of Rte. 9 and 9L, Lake George Town employees lined up in front of all the town highway trucks and heavy equipment. Across the road, dozens of schoolchildren were gathered in the Gift World parking lot, waving flags.
The procession continued, traveling north on I-87 a mile or so to Exit 22, then came south through Lake George Village. In front of one motel after another, motel owners, managers, guests, and chambermaids clad in smocks gathered on the sidewalks and paid their respects.
Standing on the Canada St., Ted Galusha of Warrensburg cried while he watched the motorcade go by.
"Oh man, I've never seen anything like this," he said. "Guys like Ben Osborn fight for all of our individual freedoms that we enjoy every single day."
In front of Lake George High School, students held up a large sign reading, "Thank You, Ben - Lake George's hero."
The hearse stopped in front of the school, for a rendition of Taps played by Joel Matthews of the Lake George Community Band.
Throughout the procession, many wore shirts emblazoned with "40," which was Osborn's football jersey number when he was a determined, accomplished linebacker and tight end on the high school team.
The motorcade continued into the center of the Village, which was packed with mourners and area visitors paying their respects, then it turned up Beach Rd.
Passing by the Minne-Ha-Ha, the ship's steam-fired calliope played "God Bless America" while employees of the Lake George Steamboat Co., dressed in black and white, stood at attention. Nearby, several Fort William Henry 1750s war re-enactors saluted the hearse.
Farther southwest lining the streets, was a crowd of firefighters in full dress, including those from Warrensburg, Lake George, North Queensbury and Riverside, who stood in tribute to Osborn under another giant American flag hung from extended ladders of both Lake George and West Glens Falls fire departments' tower trucks.
The motorcade continued up Fort George Rd. and Rte. 9 south to Quaker Rd, then east to Regan & Denny Funeral home, where calling hours were set for 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesday for Osborn's relatives and friends, Lake George Town Supervisor Frank McCoy said.
"This was one of the most moving experiences of my entire life and I'm sure it was for hundreds of others in the region," he said. "The folks of Lake George and Queensbury really came together and expressed a unforgettable tribute to Ben Osborn, our fallen hero."