Andrew Dys

Chester Co. native daughter laid to rest

Members of the Fort Jackson Color Guard carry the casket of Spc. Zandra Worthy-Walker in preparation for burial at Mount Hopewell Baptist Church between Bullock Creek and Sharon in York County on Friday.
Members of the Fort Jackson Color Guard carry the casket of Spc. Zandra Worthy-Walker in preparation for burial at Mount Hopewell Baptist Church between Bullock Creek and Sharon in York County on Friday.

The country church is small, two sets of 12 rows on either side of a central aisle with room for eight on each pew if you sit close enough to count teeth.

So people who had sent men, and now daughters, to wars for a century, had to stand in the back of Mount Hopewell Baptist Church, founded in 1880 by former slaves. They stood on the sides, and overflow waited outside.

Because on Friday afternoon in the far southwestern corner of York County, a mile or so from where she was raised in northwest Chester County, a community called Thompson Quarters held a funeral for one of its own. A soldier who was killed by enemy fire in Iraq nine days before.

Her name was Army Spc. Zandra Worthy-Walker. She was a helicopter and jet refueler in the 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation regiment, 1st Aviation Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.

She had already finished one tour of Army duty 18 months ago when she re-enlisted.

Her late grandfather, Carlson Jeter, was a prisoner of war in Korea. Her aunt is a major in the Army. Her twin sister is in the Army -- they left college to enlist -- serving in Kuwait.

Zandra, called "Nicey" by everybody, joined back up after her first enlistment knowing full well she'd be in Iraq soon after the ink dried on her papers.

But the Army is what this family does.

And in war, 71 times now, soldiers from South Carolina who signed up have had to be buried.

So the church ladies fried chicken and baked coconut cake marble cake, chocolate cake and cream cheese cake. They made macaroni and cheese and banana pudding and peach cobbler, and corn and green beans and potato salad. They made at least seven sweet potato pies.

'One of us'

Outside in the brutal sun, almost 100 motorcycle bikers, mostly veterans, formed an honor guard of American flags. They poured sweat and did not flinch. They were all volunteers. One guy came from near Asheville, N.C., and walked with a limp and a cane. A Persian Gulf War veteran named Ken Worthen. He never met Zandra.

The bikers were white. Zandra was black. Nobody cared.

"She's one of us," Worthen said.

Behind the church a solitary man covered in sweat hustled to get the grave ready for the service. Luke Fuller. The grave was exactly 8 feet long by 35 inches wide, and it sat next to the grave of Katrina Worthy, Zandra's youngest sister. She died in June at age 22, from a brain tumor.

Fuller set up a concrete box called a Houston Vault, painted silver, to hold the casket. The vault would be winched down into the ground. On its top read: "Spc. Zandra Worthy-Walker," and there was a picture of her.

She was smiling, beautiful, and now, at 28 years old, she was dead in a war.

I asked Fuller if he knew who the grave was for and he said no, so I told him it was a lady soldier who grew up a mile from where we stood.

"Oh, my," he said. "I buried soldiers in other places, too. I'll make it perfect."

And he did.

Zandra and her family moved to near Greenville after she finished elementary school. A school principal from Woodmont High School, where Zandra was a runner, told the funeral crowd the school's track would be named in her honor.

An Army sergeant named Lescott Roberts strode to the altar. He is from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and he spoke with an accent. He came from Taji, Iraq, where Zandra died, to this country place because it mattered to him to be there.

Zandra served under Roberts. She volunteered for missions when he needed someone, he said. She did noncommissioned officer duties, although she wasn't one, when there wasn't an officer to be had. She was a leader.

Roberts used the words "dependable, responsible and mature." Then he used the words "motivation and professionalism." He said Zandra was known for her "country accent" just like he was known for his Caribbean accent.

Generations of soldiers

Zandra's accent, that upbringing that showed where she came from, was in that church Friday. Generations of men from this area who went to wars sat or they stood, and some cried.

The funeral ended. The family and all those soldiers filed through the biker guards with the American flags. Fuller, who finished the grave, sat on a grader in a field nearby. He finished on time.

The family buried Zandra in that awful, perfect grave.