(STATESBORO) Family, friends, and neighbors in Bulloch County are set for the final homecoming of Air Force Staff Sergeant Chester McBride. McBride, a Statesboro native, along with five other U.S. troops, were killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan last week in a small village near Bagram Air Base. McBride’s body is set to be flown home on New Year’s Day. There are hundreds of people in his hometown preparing to pay their respects, including his first grade teacher, Christie Page.
Page says she feels privileged to have seen the seeds of education grow throughout McBride’s life. After high school, he went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree from Savannah State University and a Master’s degree from Valdosta State University. Page says following news of his death, she was able to find some of his earliest academic work. First grade writing samples, notes, and even photographs of McBride when he was six years old. She says she wrote a poem about the first time he walked into her class at Mattie Lively Elementary School. “My first thought was, what a cute little boy, although he’s built solid right down to the core. The instant I saw those brown eyes look at me, I knew I was blessed for all eternity.” Page recited.
The news of her former student’s death was like an emotional ambush, Page says for her and many teachers, students are like their own children. ” It was hard, I mean I was not, you don’t expect to read that and it’s already hard when you know that people are sacrificing for our country, so that you and I can be here like this.” said Page, adding ” I’ve lost a student…his parents lost a son…aunts and uncles have lost a nephew, people have lost a best friend, I mean, we carry around different labels for different people and um, Chester carried around…and now he carries around the hero. I mean and he was a hero to me way before this, but now, for so many, he now symbolizes freedom and sacrifice and standing up for something you believe in.” Page said before sharing the last stanza of her poetic tribute to McBride. ” Even though our hearts ache and we all have cried, we’re all better people because of our American Hero, Chester McBride. Rest in peace Chester. I love you.” she wrote.