1st Lt. Joseph D. Helton
Hometown: Monroe, Georgia, U.S.
Age: 24 years old
Died: September 8, 2009 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Unit: Air Force, 6th Security Forces Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.
Incident: Died near Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive devise.
The following is taken from The Walton Tribune, a local paper near Monroe, GA.;
Keenan Byrd brought his three children to Broad Street in Monroe Tuesday to see a hero.
That hero was fallen airman 1st Lt. Joseph D. Helton, a 2003 Monroe Area High School graduate who was killed in action in Iraq Sept. 8.
“We just need them to know there are people fighting for our country and freedom in another country and some lost their lives fighting for it,” Byrd said.
Byrd and his family were four of the thousands who lined the streets to pay respect for Helton.
A procession carrying the Monroe native left from Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, taking the slow trip through the streets of Grayson and Loganville before arriving at Meadows Funeral Home in Monroe.
The 24-year-old U.S. Air Force Academy honor graduate of 2007 was killed near Baghdad when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device.
Just before the plane carrying the young soldier landed at Briscoe
Field, a gentle rain began falling. A protective line of American Legion and Patriot Guard riders shielded the family from view as the body was loaded into the hearse. The procession, led by members of many local law enforcement agencies and the riders, then began the journey from Lawrenceville to Monroe.
At many intervals along the way, residents lined the street, standing with flags and umbrellas as the rains started to fall. As the procession passed through Grayson, some who were driving by saw the patriotism along Highway 20 and stopped to join the ranks. As they waited, Walgreen’s handed out water. Most did not know the airman, but it was out of respect they took part in honoring the Monroe resident.
“To me, it is the least I can do to honor a fallen comrade,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Seals, of Grayson, who returned from a tour of active duty in 2007 and is an active reserve.
“As a GI, its important,” said Ken Johnson, of Loganville, who struggled to hold back tears. “I want my son to understand patriotism, to show respect for the flag, respect for soldiers and for his country.”
Johnson was there with his son Landen, 7, and his wife, Jan, a teacher at the nearby school who said this would help as her kindergarten class was covering patriotism next week and she wanted to add the experience to the lesson.
“This is a moment everyone wants to cherish,” said Grayson Mayor Jim Hinkle. “These people give their lives for us and we must honor them. After 28 years in the Marine Corps, I have an affinity with this airman. It’s touching.”
As the procession passed by the Loganville American Legion Post 233, Commander Bobby Boss was unable to control his emotions.
“I’m sorry,” a choked up Boss said. “It’s the respect shown that gets to me — that’s so important. And the loss — that is terrible.”
“He was just so young, just so young,” said Post 233 Women’s Auxiliary member Ruby Mitchell.
This sentiment was echoed by fellow Women’s Auxiliary member Jean Kelly.
“He was too young. So many kids like him go over there and sacrifice for us,” Kelly said through her tears. “He wanted to go back. He said he wanted to go back and finish the job so others won’t have to.”
Kelly said Helton was one of the soldiers supported by Soldiers’ Connection, an organization out of the American Legion Post 233 that sends care packages to soldiers serving in the combat zone.
“He came and spoke to us — to thank us for our support — when he was home before going back on that second tour,” Kelly said. “He was one of the sweetest kids I’ve ever met. He gave his life for us.”
In Monroe, Judy Walker stood under an awning waiting for the procession. Her son Ted and daughter Heather went to school with Helton — her son-in-law is currently fighting in Afghanistan.
“I think it is important to show we support the family and the cause,” Walker said. “Especially the family.”
Funeral services were held for Helton in Monroe Wednesday and Thursday another procession led the young fallen hero to his final resting place at the National Cemetery in Canton.
God rest his soul, may his sacrifice not be forgotten.