FAYETTEVILLE --In a patch of grass along Gillespie Street, American flags whip in the bitter January wind.
"With Honor and Respect You Will Be Missed," reads a handmade sign with red stripes. "RIP CSM Ratley."
The growing memorial and the groups of soldiers who hug one another, cry or bend down with a bouquet of flowers in silence is a loud reminder of who Command Sgt. Major Lynn Ratley was -- a selfless hero.
"True to his self," Sheri Bain said. "True to his community. True to children. The country. He stood for something."
Bain is among hundreds mourning the loss of Ratley who was killed by a wrong-way driver on Saturday evening. The driver, 26-year-old Justin Dunlap is facing a number of charges including misdemeanor death by motor vehicle. On Tuesday, details describing what made him cross the Gillespie Street median were not available. He is scheduled to appear in court on April 6th.
Read more about the accident here
Bain knew Ratley for his volunteer service to her students at Sunnyside Elementary School in Cumberland County.
Last year, Ratley along with soldiers from his 261st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, started a reading buddy program. Each week dozens of soldiers would spend the morning mentoring the pupils through literacy. They participated in field days, and just last week, Ratley and his soldiers held an eye exam clinic for more than 200 students and staff. Sixteen children got free eyeglasses.
A huge plaque with pictures of Ratley and his soldiers serving the students meets visitors in the school's front entrance.
There are two things Bain will always remember about Ratley.
"His willingness to serve and his smile," Bain said.
Ratley, 47, was a father, grandfather and Sandhills native. He served with the 261st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, was just a few months shy of retirement and loved his motorcycle.
On Saturday morning, his longtime neighbor and friend Sonya Schroeder said she saw him working on his Harley in the driveway hours before his death.
"He was there working on his motorcycle, getting it ready to go and he had waved at me," Schroeder said.
She and her husband found out on Facebook that he'd been killed about a mile and half from their Hope Mills neighborhood.
"It was just a shock," she said. "It all came all at once."
The news hit Ratley's soldiers hard Tuesday morning. Coming off the long holiday weekend, one in tears described the formation as "really tough."
From social media postings to the few words people come up with in person, Ratley is described as nothing short of a true hero.
The 261st Multifunctional Medical Brigade Facebook Page
If anything, his death is a painful reminder of the facts of life.
"It just makes me remember that life's a vapor," Schroeder said. "And to just love well, embrace every single moment and just don't take life for granted, 'cause there could be a chance you're not here the next day."
"Tell your loved ones that you love them," Bain said. "Quality time means everything because you just don't know when your time is up. You need to serve. You need to be about community and family and country."
Funeral arrangement information for Ratley was not immediately available, but he will be buried with full military honors.