The Grey Horse – a tribute to our fallen heroes

By: By Laura Albright with Michael Burke, Special to the Auburn Journal
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It was years ago when he went to the horse races. But it was every Sunday and he always bet.
Not for the horse with the best statistical chance of winning, not for the biggest horse, and not for the prettiest horse, but for the Grey Horse. The horse that always finished the race. Because it isn’t always the most important thing to come in first, but instead, the journey to cross the finish line.
We ask only this of our youth. Strive for your personal best and finish what you’ve started. And sometimes, most of the time, when less pressure is applied, our young men and women do amazing things.
Clinton James Williams was a son, grandson, brother, nephew, cousin, friend, and a service man. He’d finished one race, graduating from Del Oro High School in 2006 only to embark on another journey shortly thereafter with the United States Navy.
A Machinist’s Mate Third Class on the USS Carl Vinson, Williams gave to his country and experienced the world in the process, striving for excellence and succeeding. While his time was short, the gifts he left behind will not be forgotten.
So we take what we can from the sacrifices and loss that we endure. And with the loss of Williams  brings a new awareness and appreciation for all of our United States Service men and women, and an unyielding pride in our military organizations.
For while friends dropped everything to come together and support the family, The Navy never was out of reach. From the moment they knocked on the family doors that fateful night to now, the Navy has been with the family every step of the way, proving that when you leave one family to enlist, you simply gain another.
The Navy didn’t just cater to Williams’ mother and father, but to all four parents in a contemporary world where families are unique. Because in Williams’ case — as well as many of our young men and women today — families take on many forms and extensions, each one being special.
The Navy proceeded with appreciation and respect, offering comfort and help to the family, and above all respect and dignity for the fallen soldier. Not only were they present in Williams’ hometown but also aboard his ship, The USS Carl Vinson, with a full 2,900-person memorial.
Sentiment and condolences poured to the family from every direction. Not only Williams’ current unit, but men and women that he served with in the past reached out to the family and attended his service.
Donations to the family’s charity topped $7,000 and friends, business colleges, and members of the community and veterans who never had the privilege to meet Williams contacted the family with their condolences and support.
People came together. People from all walks of life, military or not, and offered whatever they had to the family, even if it was simply a warm smile, an embrace, or a delicious casserole. And that’s not where the support ended. Calls, emails and guest book notes came by the hundreds. Notes that bring comfort and laughter to a time that is otherwise full of sadness.
And as the family emerges from their grief, acknowledgments and thanks top their priorities. Because they realize their son, their service man, their Grey Horse was amazing beyond what they could have imagined.
He may have left too soon, but with his legacy he created a bond with not only the United States Navy but with every service man and woman, every family touched by the military, and a community of thoughtful individuals that mourns with them.
Michael Burke is Clinton Williams’ stepfather