Army Master Sgt. Annie Woodfork vividly remembers the first time she met the little girl who would become her future daughter-in-law, Spc. Hilda Clayton.
Clayton, who was 12 years old at the time, was on her first date with Woodfork’s son, Chase. The young couple were on their way to see a movie, but not before Woodfork could meet Clayton.
“Chase’s head was down and looking to the right and Hilda’s head was down and looking to the left,” Woodfork said with a chuckle, recalling opening the door to her house to let Clayton in. “I said ‘How did y’all meet? No one is looking at each other!’”
From that point forward, the couple was practically inseparable, even if Clayton’s older sister had to chaperone the earlier dates.
When Clayton’s family moved across town, Woodfork said her son would ride his 10-speed bicycle to go see her. Just before Clayton died, her husband was granted his request to change duty stations from Fort Stewart to Fort Meade to be with his wife.
On Friday, many of Clayton’s friends and family were at Poteet Funeral Homes on Peach Orchard Road to see her for one last time. The Army photographer was killed after a mortar weapons system failed during a July 2 Afghan army training exercise.
Clayton, stationed at Fort George G. Meade, Md., was a combat documentation specialist and assigned to the 55th Signal Co., a combat camera unit, 21st Signal Brigade, Fort Meade spokesman Chad Jones said earlier this month. Members of her unit made the trip to Augusta to pay their respects.
American flags lined the entrance of the funeral home while well-wishers milled about inside the lobby. Photos of the fallen soldier dotted the interior, all with Clayton sporting her signature smile.
In the chapel, a football jersey bearing No. 12 was on display. It was donated by the Baltimore Nighthawks of the Independent Women’s Football League, the team Clayton tried out for before her deployment to Afghanistan. The team’s owner, Tanya A. Bryan, drove to the visitation Saturday to personally deliver the jersey.
“She got picked up as a receiver,” Woodfork said. “They actually take a long time to get the jerseys made, but they got Hilda’s done in three days.”
Clayton was assigned jersey No. 12 for her status as the team’s “permanent 12th woman.” The jersey will be buried with Clayton at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Augusta.
After knowing Clayton for nearly a decade, Woodfork said she still has trouble believing the person she considered one of her own children is gone.
“It hurts a bunch,” she said. “She was one of the best that Augusta could produce.”
Poteet Funeral Homes General Manager Sean Gillens said the funeral service will be held Saturday at Alexander Hall on Fort Gordon.
A graveside service will be held immediately afterward at Hillcrest Memorial Park.