Rare look at a fallen hero's final homecoming

MINCO, Okla., - It's a tragedy any time a U.S. service member is killed during a war. In the past decade, 6,278 Americans have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Chief national correspondent Byron Pitts went to Oklahoma, where a fallen hero came home for the final time.

Surana Prince "caught something out of the corner of my eye," and saw two men in uniforms. "I knew when I seen them they were there to tell me my husband had been killed."

Prince's husband was 28-year-old Sgt. Mycal Prince of the Oklahoma National Guard. Prince was a family man, and a local policeman who joined the National Guard 11 years ago. He died in Afghanistan on Sept. 15, 2011.

"Never in 27 years years of life, would I ever thought that I would have been a widow," Surana said.

A rocket propelled grenade took Mycal's life, and changed hers. Surana collapsed when she heard the news. "They came in and shattered my world."

The military delivers the bitter news the same way each time. A service member of equal or higher rank and a chaplain show up in uniform. There have been 12 such notifications in Prince's unit alone since July.

From the battlefield in Afghanistan, to Dover Air Base, to  Prince's home state of Oklahoma, a service member stood by Prince's side. It's part of the soldier's creed: "Leave no man behind."

(At left watch Russ Mitchell's 2009 report on dignified transfers)

CBS News was granted rare access to this military tradition - the dignified transfer of remains - with the permission of Prince's widow, Surana.

When Prince's remains arrived at the Oklahoma City airport, his wife, family, and close friends were waiting. There was grief and pride in equal measure.

Standing next to her husband's casket at the airport, Surana said she told him "I loved him. He was my best friend." She also said, "I was sorry that these cowards did what they did and there was nothing I could do to make him better."

Neighbors couldn't make it better, either. But thousands tried. For 38-and-a-half miles, Prince's body was transferred to his hometown of Minco. Oklahomans lined the highway, back roads and small towns. School was let out early. Businesses closed. Friends, neighbors and strangers stood still for nearly an hour.

"To see people that I've never met, never seen a day in my life, cry for the life of my husband because he was lost, and died for their freedom, made me feel very proud," Surana said.

The dignified transfer ends with the funeral. Prince's family received a Purple Heart.

Why did Surana allow CBS News to be there at this deeply personal time in her life? "I think it's important that people know what goes on after the knock on the door," she said.

Surana said she wants America to know that her husband was "a hero."

But he's not the last one. Within hours of Sgt. Mycal Prince's burial, before the sun would set over his grave, another member of his National Guard Unit was killed in Afghanistan.