Kenneth Stewarts grandfather, Alec Miles, quietly started counting people as they came to pay their respects to his family.
He lost track at 1,012.
Dawson County mourned the loss of 12-year-old Kenneth Webster Stewart III when he was laid to rest on Friday, March 15, after fighting a near five-year battle with medulloblastoma a malignant brain tumor most commonly diagnosed in children.
Stewart was given the name Soldier Boy by the Dawson community for his fascination with the military and his hopes of someday being in the Army. In January, Gov. Nathan Deal bestowed the title of Lieutenant Colonel Aide-de-Camp on Stewart.
He became a symbol of strength following his diagnosis in 2008, and almost immediately people were moved by his journey. Hundreds began following updates of his progress through his prayer-group page on Facebook, which currently has over 800 members.
For Stewarts mother, Anna Miles, the long-time support of the community is what kept her going.
She said her father told her he counted more than one thousand of her sons supporters, prayer group members and friends who came through Bearden Funeral Home on Thursday to pay their respects to the young lieutenant colonel.
My father stood in front of me from the moment I started greeting and giving people love till the moment I stopped, said Miles. And, he lost count at 1,012 people.
Miles said her sons journey crossed paths with many others, and she believes that his job here was an important one. Kenneths purpose on this earth was not just for me to be blessed with a wonderful son and learn from him, she said, but for each individual to be touched in their own way and take what they needed to take from him and embrace their own lives with it. Thats what was done, and we all were actual witnesses of it. Kim Bennett is a close family friend and was Stewarts principal when he attended Robinson Elementary School. His faith never wavered, she said. He renewed a love and brought a community together through his suffering. He said to me, Ms. Kim, Im gonna do it because its the right thing to do. And, so many times in our lives, we care about ourselves more than everybody else thats around us. Kenny taught me that sometimes we need to do things just because its the right thing to do. Miles said her sons strength came from his determination to help find a cure for cancer. Im proud to of called him my son, she said. And if we knew that he was the last person to ever endure a journey and a battle through cancer, and no one else would ever have to again, we would have stood there and chose to be the final ones to go through it. He did it ever so gracefully without one bit of shame, complaint, or embarrassment. And he was willing to lose his life fighting for it. Stewart said her sons tumors were removed and frozen for scientists to use in finding a cure for the cancer. After a nearly two-and-half hour wait in line to pay respects, mourners knew the legacy of his short life was evident. Tributes to the youth were heard throughout Dawsonville. Immediately following Thursdays visitation, Miles was led to her car down a candlelit path filled with mourners and supporters singing Amazing Grace. After Fridays funeral service, the procession was led by the Patriot Guard Riders who attend funerals to honor fallen military personnel. Each motorcycle in the group flew an American flag. Internment services were held at Moss Memorial Gardens where Stewart received full military honors. Dawson County Parks and Recreation dedicated Rock Creek Park Field #12 to Stewart and renamed it Kenneth Stewart III Field, Soldier Boy. His love of baseball provided an opportunity for him to serve as a bat boy during a game held at Turner Field benefiting Childrens Healthcare of Atlanta. He also served as grand marshal on opening day of the Dawson County Park and Recreation baseball season. Family friend, Cathie Waddell, said her fondest memory of Stewart was on the baseball field where he could enjoy being a kid. We loved watching him play, she said. It was awesome. I dont know how that kid had the strength and energy, but he lived every minute. He will always have a place on our bench. Stewarts mother said the continuation of community support throughout her sons memorial services was proof that Kenneth fulfilled his lifes purpose. In one way, shape, or form, all of those people were moved by Kenneth, and he was nothing more than a little boy who was just being himself. Kenneth did his job like no other. God sat next to Kenneth in heaven, looking down on us. And he patted that little boys shoulders and said, Job well done. And I know that.