HAMMOND, LA (WVUE) - Dozens of friends, fellow soldiers, and family members filed into a Hammond church Monday to attend the first funeral after four Louisiana soldiers died in a Florida helicopter crash.
Guard pilot George Wayne Griffin was among 11 service members killed during a training mission. Mourners gathered at Hammond's Holy Ghost Church to pray for Griffin and the family he left behind.
"Anything we can to with the family to make them safe and comfortable and helped," said Major Tim Cleighton, with the 2-144th National Guard unit.
Griffin was eulogized as a man who loved his family and country, and who dedicated his life to military flight.
"He was sharp, and as good a pilot and dedicated, he was a great friend, and loved his family and we'll miss him," said Stan Zambiasi, a friend and former Guard pilot who served with Griffin in Iraq.
Griffin was an experienced Black Hawk helicopter pilot, considered one of the most gifted in the 2-144th.
"He taught me a lot of things that others didn't, and was just a very competent capable, tremendous pilot, said Cleighton.
Griffin was a veteran of two tours in Iraq, where he and others came under heavy fire.
"Professional pilot, great guy - it's hard to say too many things about him in a short period of time," Zambiasi said.
Griffin and three other Louisiana guardsmen, as well as seven marines based in North Carolina, were killed not overseas but on a training mission in Navarre, Fla.
"Unfortunately, things do happen, and we won't know until the accident team comes out with the findings," Cleighton said.
After the service in Hammond, Griffin's body was brought to Lafayette under full military and police escort.
"These parents here are living our nightmare. I don't think people realize the sacrifices made," said Ken Dugas with the Patriot Guard Riders', who led the procession. Many of their members are determined to give veterans a better reception than they had returning from Vietnam.
"We changed a long way since I came home. We're never gonna forget," said Patriot Rider Jon David of Lafayette.
The 37-year old-Griffin leaves behind a wife and four children.
"Unfortunately we lost some good ones. The unit will bounce back. These guys will never be replaced, but the mission still goes on," Cleighton said.
A mission that will continue without one of the most experienced pilots in the Louisiana National Guard.
A fund has been set up to assist the families of the service members at