They gathered along J Street — old friends, family friends, and those who simply knew of him — to pay their respects to a soldier who lost his life in the line of duty.
Those friends remembered Army Sgt. John A. Lyons as a bright kid, the kind of guy who liked to read the dictionary ... and take notes on what he was reading. The kind of guy who made everyone smile and laugh.
The kind of guy who'd ride down the street ... reading a book.
"Remember him running down the beach in combat boots?" said Morrigan Devine, who attended Central Regional High School with Lyons.
"He had the best smile ever," said Jennifer Padavano, another high school friend.
"He brought such joy to everyone," said Meghan Jeffries.
Lyons, 26, a 2003 graduate of Central Regional, died Wednesday of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire, in Ghazni province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 8th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas, according to the Defense Department.
Lyons' body was brought home on Thursday and driven down the streets where he used to hang out with friends, down to the bay and then along the oceanfront of the town that was his home. A gray fog that had enveloped much of the island on this day before Veterans Day turned briefly to rain, and then lifted as the procession carrying Lyons made the turn onto Central Avenue.
Led by firetrucks and emergency vehicles from the Seaside Park Volunteer Fire Department and Berkeley Township police, the procession included more than a dozen motorcyclists who participate in the Patriot Guard Riders, as well as the Warriors Watch Riders.
As the procession passed, tears flowed from many in the crowd. For some, they were tears reflecting a loss that hit too close to home.
Kelly Petrone, a friend of Susan Smiley, Lyons' mother, wiped tears from her eyes as she and Linda Valeri waited for the procession to arrive.
"I have a son, too," Petrone said. "I can't even begin to imagine what she's going through."
"We watched him grow up," Valeri said. "A lot of the people you see here are friends of his mom. All she ever talks about are her kids."
And by all counts, Lyons was special.
"He is a good, decent young man," said Gail Coleman, a friend of Lyons' family. "He is the kind of young man you'd want your daughter to bring home."
"I had him when I taught science in the middle school," said Central Regional Superintendent Trian Parlapanides, who came to show his respects. "He was the kind of kid who questioned everything.
"It's a real tragedy," Parlapanides said. "One of America's brightest minds passed too soon."