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Wednesday, May 22 2013 8:18 AM EDT2013-05-22 12:18:58 GMT
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August 14, 2005
Valdosta- Sergeant Ronnie Shelley Sr. died when a roadside bomb hit the Humvee in which he was riding July 30th in Iraq. It was just two weeks before he was scheduled to come home for leave. Sunday, the family celebrated his life.
In the shadow of a large American flag, hundreds in Valdosta paused to remember Sgt. Ronnie Shelley.
"He really believed in freedom, he gave his life for it, he did believe in it," said Heidi Shelley, his wife.
"He enjoyed life, he enjoyed living life, he really enjoyed people, being around people and he did everything he wanted to do when he wanted to do it," said Angie Massey, his sister.
Shelley's family describe Ronnie as giving, honorable, and respectful with a duty to serve.
"That happened with 9-11 he said I'm going to go, because he wanted to protect all of our children, he didn't want it to come on our territory," said Massey.
"Our son was only 8 days old and they attacked us on our soil our home turf and he felt it was better to go them, than them come to us and that's the reason why he went," said Shelley.
Toby Keith's song American Soldier played during the service as a reminder.
"Beside my brothers and my sisters I will proudly take a stand, When liberty's in jeopardy I will always do what's right, I'm out here on the front lines, sleep in peace tonight. American soldier."
"Ron's favorite saying was I'm going over there so y'all can sleep peaceful at night and then that song says it all it describes my husband and all of his friends over there," said Shelley.
Hundreds with flags lined the path from the Georgia National Guard Armory to the cemetery to pay tribute to one of Valdosta's own.
"I am proud, proud of the citizens of Valdosta and I don't know there's not enough words to express my gratitude for coming out," said Shelley.
"It touched my heart, it let me know that my brother did not die in vain and that as Americans, we do support them and what they're over there for," said Massey.
Then came the final, 21 gun salute for Shelley and the unmistakable lesson that freedom doesn't come free.
"My brother paid the ultimate price," said Massey.
Eleven South Georgia soldiers have been killed in combat and another was killed in a vehicle crash in Iraq.