30 March 2009

For Gallantry in Action

"It was some of the bravest stuff I’ve ever seen in my life, and I will never see it again because those guys... well, normal humans wouldn’t do that. You’re not supposed to do that — getting up and firing back when everything around you is popping and whizzing and trees, branches coming down and sandbags exploding and RPGs coming in over your head... "

- SPC Tyler Stafford

Yesterday, the family of Cpl Jon Ayers was presented his posthumous award of the Silver Star for his actions near Wanat, Afghanistan on 13 July 2008.

Bruce McQuain attended.

The auditorium was packed. The Patriot Guard lined the room. Old members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (from my era) were on hand. So were Cpl Ayer’s comrades. His mother had decreed (in a motherly way) that this ceremony not be a memorial service but, instead, a celebration of his life. And that’s precisely what it was. Speaker after speaker talked about Jonathan, his life prior to the Army, the fact that he was the commander of the JROTC unit at Shiloh High School and that the military seemed always to be in his future.

His former company commander, who will receive the Silver Star in a ceremony at Ft. Benning tomorrow, talked about the fact that had it not been for Jon Ayers, he wouldn’t have the honor of standing on that stage addressing Ayer’s family. His mother, Susan, talked about the son she’d lost but was so proud of the man he’d become. And his father brought the house down with a poignant yet humorous remembrance of his son. After the presentation of the Silver Star to the family, the family was the first to leave and then other relatives. When the soldiers who had served with Jon rose to walk out, the entire auditorium stood and applauded them.

16 Sky Soldiers from Chosen Company of the 1st of the 503 Airborne Infantry battalion lost their lives during their tour in Afghanistan. Over 60 of them were awarded Purple Hearts. 14 Silver Stars. One Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to a member of the company [SSG Erich Phillips]and one is pending. And one soldier from the company has been nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Update: Bruce's follow up story at Blackfive.

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