Recorder News Staff
FORT PLAIN -- One by one, the friends and family of Staff Sgt. Emily Clayburn filed into Our Lady of Hope Roman Catholic Church on Sunday to pay their respects to a true hometown hero.
Mourners were greeted by more than a dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders, who lined the entranceway, flags in hand, in honor Clayburn.
A Canajoharie High School alumna, Clayburn, 29, was killed last Monday in an industrial accident at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., where she served as an airman with the United States Air Force's 6th Air Mobility Wing.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation.
On Sunday, it was clear that the loss of the 29-year-old was being felt far beyond the confines of Montgomery County, with mourners from as far at Florida gathering at the church to remember what many described as a vibrant and vivacious young woman.
Lyn Day made her way to Fort Plain from South Carolina. Lyn said her daughter, Marcy, was Emily's best friend.
"They were like sisters," Day said.
Day said there was never a thought of not making the trip up to New York for the services.
"We wouldn't have had it any other way," Day said.
"She was ours," she added, describing Clayburn as one of the "family."
"She was great. Funny," Day said. "She always made you feel totally at home. She was so welcoming."
Day also spoke of the special relationship her daughter shared with Clayburn.
"I never had to worry about Marcy because I knew Emily was watching over. She still is," said Day. "I told my daughter, 'if you didn't have a guardian angel before, you've got one now."
"All the good things you could put in words, that was her," she added.
Lt. Col. Collin Gilbert, Commander of the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron, was Clayburn's commanding officer.
He was also there on Sunday, not only to pay his respects, he said, but those of the entire squadron.
"She had a zest for life," Gilbert said. "A smile that lit up a room. Just a truly vivacious attitude."
"She was a solid airman," he added. "She had really matured in the last several years.
Calling it a "tragic loss," Gilbert said Clayburn's death has struck both her squadron and the entire Tampa community extremely hard.
"You steel yourself for when you might get that call when an airman is deployed," Gilbert said. "This was just a Monday. And then it wasn't."
"The community has taken this really hard," he added. "There's just been a tremendous outpouring of support from the Tampa community.
Gilbert said Clayburn was escorted home by a member of her squadron, Technical Sgt. Louis Vega. The escort included a layover in Atlanta, where Delta Airlines ensured that a color guard was on hand to pay Clayburn proper tribute.
"We take nothing more seriously than the care of our fallen," Gilbert said. "He (Vega) was with her every step of the way."
Clayburn will be laid to rest today in a service that will include full military honors.