The main floor of the Ruth Finley Person theater at the Wells Fargo Center seats 1,000, and it was hard to find an empty chair for the memorial service this morning for Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams, 25, of Santa Rosa who was slain in Iraq earlier this month.

And from the moment Jesse’s wife, Sonya Williams, walked in holding their 11-month-old daughter, Amaya, it was just as hard to find a dry eye.

This was a service draped in red and white flowers and blue ribbons, in George Winston songs and Amazing Grace, and in tributes to an exuberant and good-humored young man, who showed his courage not only in combat but his willingness to tell his buddies as well as family members that he loved them.

His father, Santa Rosa political consultant Herb Williams, noted that he once overheard Jesse being teased by a friend for leaving the house with an, “I love you, Dad.” But his son quickly defended the tradition. Jesse said that some day he may come home to find that his dad was gone. “I want those words to be the last thing he hears from me,” he said.

Sonya Williams impressed those in attendance by offering her own tribute to her husband, a man she said was eager to be a father. Sonya told of the day she called him overseas to relay the news that she was pregnant. “Until that moment I had no idea that you could hear the sound of a smile,” she said.

She said that Jesse had left a video tape for her to watch in case he did not return from Iraq alive. At the end of the tape, he told her not to worry. He held up their daughter to the video recorder and said, “This is me left behind.”

The crowd stood as Sonya left the stage.

After the benediction, the bagpipes were played. Veterans and Boy Scouts in the crowd joined the soldiers present in saluting the flag-draped casket as it was carried out. A hushed crowd that included many elected officials and civic leaders then followed.

And it was over.

— Paul Gullixson