Tearful supporters arrived at Bellevue's Sports Hut on Sunday to honor a local fallen soldier and aid his grieving family.
Standing in lines that wrapped around the entrance, hundreds of community members and friends of Staff Sgt. Jon Martin huddled together for warmth and wiped away stray tears.
The benefit to help the family was set to start at 11 a.m., but a line formed half an hour early and parking spaces were scarce.
"I knew it was going to be a big crowd," Sports Hut owner Bill Ruffing said. "The turnout is more than we anticipated."
Martin, 33, died on Thanksgiving Day at a hospital in Germany as a result of injuries he suffered Nov. 9 from a roadside bomb in Iraq.
A 1993 graduate of Bellevue High School and father of three, Martin served four years in the Marine Corps and joined the Army a year later. He returned to Iraq for his third tour despite being wounded during his second tour, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart.
Ruffing said seeing the community come together Sunday to support the family of such a hero was amazing.
With strip streak, chicken, walleye, potatoes and pumpkin ice cream on the menu, many patrons said the $10 admission was too low and threw extra dollars at those taking tickets.
"I tossed the ticket lady an extra $10," Jesse David said. "Jon's family needs it more than I do. If they have to do without their father, I can certainly do without my rainy day fund."
A silent auction took place next to the dining area and Marty Close, a friend of the family, said more than $7,500 in merchandise had been donated by various business organizations.
During the benefit, Martin's aunt, Mary Swartz, and father, Don Martin, held onto one another for comfort. Martin's wife, Becki, who just returned from her husband's bedside in Germany, was not in attendance.
"I think it would have been too much," Swartz said. "With the jet lag on top of everything else she's feeling right now... She needs a few days to breathe. This would've broken her down even more."
Swartz said she hopes every grief-stricken family is attended to in their time of need.
"I hope every soldier's family is as lucky as we are to have the support and warmth from the community," she said as she fought back tears.
Don Martin, whose eyes glistened with tears, didn't speak other than to say thank you to the various friends approaching with words of sympathy. He held his granddaughter, Martin's middle child, 5-year-old Allie, tight. Martin's sad eyes seemed to brighten only when he glanced at his granddaughter in between comforting words and hugs.
"This means a lot to us," he said to friends. "Thank you."
Paul Lieber, Martin's former high school teacher, said he is proud of the man Martin became and of the community so willing to share their love and support with his family.
"We came here to honor him and support the family," he said. "You aren't always able to get rid of the grief, but seeing the community pull together like this should help a little bit."
Bill Dackermann, a former Marine, said although he didn't know Martin, he knew the family and that was enough to bring him to the benefit.
"I don't care if you're for or against the war," he said. "You better support your troops."