The body of Petty Officer 3rd Class James Layton of Riverbank returned to the valley Tuesday, a week after he was killed in a battle in eastern Afghanistan, bringing home the reality of the war in that part of the world.
In a ceremony at Modesto Airport, with Layton's family looking on, Navy service members transferred the casket draped in an American flag from a chartered airplane to a hearse. Family members then rode in a procession of police cars, fire engines and the Patriot Guard veterans motorcycle group through east Modesto to Riverbank and a mortuary in Escalon.
At many places along the route, groups of people held flags or waved as the procession rumbled past. Just north of Riverbank, an archway was created over Santa Fe Road by extending fire engine ladders and holding an American flag over the roadway. In Escalon, 150 people lined Main Street to greet the procession.
People had many reasons for turning out: They knew Layton when he was a fun- loving teenager, they wanted to support the family or they were inspired by his story.
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Layton, a Navy corpsman, was killed Sept. 8 in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan while giving medical attention to a wounded Marine lieutenant. He was with a force of Afghan troops and their U.S. trainers that was ambushed by insurgents near the village of Ganjgal.
Layton and three Marines, who also were killed, were near the front of the column when the shooting started.