Army Staff Sgt. James P. Hunter
Died June 18, 2010 serving during Operation Enduring Freedom
25, of South Amherst, Ohio; assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died June 18 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
(The following was taken from blog.cleveland.com of June 26, 2010) OBERLIN, Ohio -- The distant echo of an explosion in Afghan dust reached Northeast Ohio on Friday as more than 300 people gathered at Firelands High School to honor Army Staff Sgt. James Hunter.
Hunter, 25, of Birmingham, a 2003 Firelands graduate, was killed June 18 by an improvised bomb while on foot patrol in Afghanistan.
The echo drifted in the rumble of Patriot Guard motorcycles outside the school and tumbled in the drone of fans in the gymnasium, stirring the flag on Hunter's casket, which stood behind a solitary pair of polished black military boots.
During a two-hour visitation, mourners walked past the casket while photos from Hunter's youth and military service flashed on a projection screen to a montage of music including Ozzy Osbourne's "Mama, I'm Coming Home," with haunting opening lyrics for this occasion: Times have changed and times are strange/ Here I come but I ain't the same.
Among the crowd were white-haired vets in crisply pressed military dress uniforms. Long-haired vets in tattoos and black leather vests. Close-cropped active-duty soldiers, saluting a fallen brother-in-arms.
An older man in an Air Force uniform laid both white-gloved hands on the casket, lowered his head for a long, silent moment, then kissed the flag.
"Why couldn't it have been me?" retired Air Force Master Sgt. Warren Dalton Sr., 66, of Lorain, later said. "Here I am, an old man, and that young man is laying there, who once had his whole life ahead of him.
"What a price to pay for freedom," the 30-year Air Force veteran added. "Geesh, it's sad. A sad day for Lorain County."
Outside in the shade, having a smoke and wearing a star-spangled hat with the message "The price of freedom is not free," Vietnam vet Marty Corbitt, 54, told how his wife, Bobbie, nearly tore the kitchen sink off the wall when she got the news that her nephew had been killed. "Jimmy was a real good guy, one of the better ones," said Corbitt, of Elizabeth, W.Va., also home to Jessica Lynch, famed POW of the war in Iraq.
Smoking nearby, Rudolph Phillips, 78, of Willoughby, who said Hunter was his step-grandson, nodded in agreement.
"Nice guy, always liked to joke around, happy, generous and patriotic as hell," he said of Hunter. "He was a good kid. Man, I tell you, I hate to see him go."
Sen. George Voinovich passed the two men in the shade, after meeting Hunter's parents. "None of us expect to have our kids die before us, so I might have a little extra insight into what these folks are going through," said Voinovich, whose daughter was killed in 1979.
The service, he added, is a way of reminding people that we're still at war, and "these families are making a big sacrifice."
Not far away, watching the arriving guests from the bumper of a car, Mike Sinko, 47, of Cleveland, said he came to the service to pay his respects to a fellow member of the same Army unit that he'd served in from 1981 to 1984.
He hoped he could meet Hunter's mother and tell her "something I've heard echoed through the years, that the 101st Airborne Division has probably the finest fighting men today, and she should be extremely proud of her son."
Echoes. Memories of a more pleasant past. They filled the Home of the Falcons as the memorial service began and family members fought back sobs while telling the crowd about the guy who counted as much more than just a casualty of war.
They remembered his "laughter, compassion and love." They said he "always went above and beyond the call of duty." They spoke to him, urging, "You be safe. You be strong."
A tearful Candice Clark said, "If I could live my life all over again, I'd go back to the time when James asked me to marry him. A million times over, I'd say yes, yes, yes.
"He was my Prince Charming, my partner, my best friend, my fianc ," she added before turning, addressing the casket, "I love you so much, and I'm so proud of you."
Army Brigadier Gen. Thomas Richardson invoked Gen. George Patton's observation to mourn not, "rather we should thank God that such men lived."
As the service ended with a song, encouraging "let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me," the echo of Afghanistan exploded in the gunfire of a three-volley rifle salute by the old soldiers of the Vermilion Veterans Council.
The echo droned in the distant roar of a vintage aircraft, passing four times overhead in a memorial fly-over as the coffin was loaded in the hearse for the journey to Lexington, Ky., where Hunter will be buried in the state where he was born.
Military personnel stood to attention, saluting. Someone started slowly clapping, then faster and faster, joined by hundreds of others until the echo of Afghanistan was lost in a crashing surf of applause.
The hearse pulled out as the family silently watched it drive into the horizon, Hunter's mother quietly clutching a folded flag to her chest.
Nothing more to do except go home, with the echo of Afghanistan still ringing in your ears.
And listen for the next one.