“Do good things.”
The phrase is inscribed under the high school yearbook photo of fallen U.S. Army Sgt. Eric E. Williams, 27, of Murrieta, who once laid an Army pin on the grave of his friend, a pastor's son murdered outside a Temecula bar.
Friends, family, fellow service members and the community gathered Saturday at Cornerstone Community Church in Wildomar to share some of the good things Williams accomplished in his life cut short.
Williams, a flight medic, was killed July 23 in Logar Province, Afghanistan, when his operating base came under enemy fire — days, if not hours, away from his scheduled return to the United States.
"Eric saved lives; the lives of soldiers and the lives of civilians — it was second nature to him," said Ryan Brieda, a friend of 15 years.
Followed by a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace," the Murrieta Fire Department presented the colors Saturday as Williams' fellow service members from the 82nd Airborne Division served as the honor guard for his American flag-draped casket that sat at the front and center of the darkened sanctuary.
The light from two candles cast a shadowy hue near bouquets of red, white and blue flowers. A blue ribbon placed on a wreath said, "Our Hero Forever."
Williams' father, Bruce, mother, Janet, and wife, Wendi sat close by, surrounded by friends and family.
"Eric was always willing to take on any task with a willing heart," said his cousin, Bryan Stumpf, who also shared some early memories of growing up with Williams.
"We had an unusual family tradition of holding him upside in pictures," Stumpf said, prompting a laugh. "And when he was young he would have a hard time going to sleep...Sleep well, Eric, we love you."
Pastor Ron Armstrong of Cornerstone Community Church said it was a honor to be asked to hold the memorial service. In the days after reading of Williams' death, Armstrong said he learned his son, Ryan, fatally stabbed outside a Temecula bar three years ago, was a friend of Williams.
On one visit home, Williams had visited Ryan's grave and left an Army medic pin, he said.
"Eric thought it was so important to give that to him," Armstrong said he learned, after talking with Williams' family.
Williams' family did not speak during the service, instead choosing to let a few of his close friends share memories in his honor.
Williams' close friend for more than a decade, Rob DeCraene, read from Williams' last blog post that was written July 17 and titled "Coming Home."
"He will always live on as a brother of mine," DeCraene said in closing after reading several paragraphs in a shaky voice.
The Internet blog, in which Williams wrote frequent entries, was something his mother suggested he start. The result was several detailed accounts that included military experiences, visits home and getting married.
Prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army in 2007, Williams had lived in Murrieta since he was in second grade. He graduated in 2002 from Murrieta Valley High School, where he served as the president Fire Explorers, a youth volunteer program through the Murrieta Fire Department.
He attended Riverside Community College Fire Academy, and became a paramedic for American Medical Response, working on a crew based out of a Murrieta fire station.
He went on to become a dispatcher for AMR before entering the Military. This was his second tour of duty; the first was to Iraq.
One of the lives he saved while on duty in Iraq was that of Staff Sgt. Joshua Constantine, who also spoke at the memorial service.
"When a bullet pierced my ribs ... I started to give up," Constantine said. "Until I heard a soft voice; it was Eric saying, 'Josh, breathe out.' Eric Williams was the greatest soldier I've ever known. Sgt. Eric Williams, I will see you on higher ground."
In attendance and speaking on behalf of Gen. Raymond T. Odierno was Brig. Gen Jeff Colt of Fort Bragg, were Williams was based.
"He did much and he touched many in his young life," Colt said. "His service as a paramedic demonstrates his services to others. His service as a flight medic demonstrates his service to all of us.
"He accepted our Soldier's Creed...We will preserve his memory as a living hero...these days when the term is grossly overused by overpaid basketball players...it is time to remember what a true hero is."
The flag from Williams' casket was presented to his mother, and two other flags were given to his wife and father before the honor guard led the family out of the church. .
The service was followed by a reception.
Williams' ashes will be spread on the ocean, according to his mother.