SAVANNAH — The mourners showed up by the hundreds, silently lining up in front of Congregation Mickve Israel while the sounds of bagpipes filled one of the city's historic squares Wednesday afternoon.
And after more than 300 people packed the synagogue for the funeral service, those who couldn't make it inside — soldiers in uniform and civilians — crowded the open doorway and spilled onto the sidewalk.
They were there to honor Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Andrew Celiz, a 32-year-old Army Ranger and Summerville native killed in action in Afghanistan on July 12.
Celiz was wounded by enemy small-arms fire while helping to support a medical evacuation landing zone, Army officials said. He died at a medical treatment facility.
As you look at the flag today and see it at half-staff, please take a moment to remember Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz, who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country in Afghanistan, and pray for his family and friends as they, and our entire state, mourn his loss.— Henry McMaster (@henrymcmaster) July 18, 2018
In his home state of South Carolina, flags were lowered to half-staff in his honor Wednesday.
Fellow soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment based at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah knew Celiz as a dedicated leader whose "infectiously" positive attitude inspired others. Celiz was on his fifth deployment as an Army Ranger when he was killed. After his death, the commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment referred to him as a "national treasure."
At Summerville High School and later The Citadel, where Celiz was enrolled for two years before enlisting in the Army in 2007, friends remembered him as smart, caring and upbeat. He was quick to crack a joke to lighten the mood, they said. He seemed to earn the respect and love of everyone who knew him.
And to Jennifer Hunter of Summerville, a friend of Celiz and his wife, Katie, it was no surprise that several hundred people attended Wednesday's service.
Through birthday parties, holiday celebrations and weekend visits to each other's homes, Hunter got to know Celiz as an "honorable, amazing" father to his 8-year-old daughter.
"I’ve never seen a man love his wife and his child as much as he loved them," she said.
Friends said Celiz and his wife began dating in high school and became "inseparable."
It was also during that time that Celiz distinguished himself as someone who looked out for and stuck up for others, said Kate Pease, a friend from high school.
Pease said Celiz took her under his wing like his little sister when she was a freshman and he was a sophomore in Junior ROTC. The two of them and their tight-knit group of friends spent weekends together competing at drill meets and hanging out at one another's homes. Pease said Celiz helped her navigate her high school years.
"He was an amazing person and became an even more amazing man," said Pease, who lives in Indiana and was not able to travel to the funeral.
The service at the synagogue in downtown Savannah drew the attention of residents who watched from their doorsteps and tourists who stopped to look.
Around 200 active-duty members of the 75th Ranger Regiment attended. With the funeral under way, dozens of them stood in the street facing the synagogue under the branches of two oak trees.
Then a three-volley salute marked the end of the service and the hundreds of people who'd paid respects to Celiz started to file out.