Daily Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
Tears run down the face of Violet Kaylor as a U.S. Army honor guard folds the flag that covered her son’s casket at graveside services Saturday at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
CPL. JON-ERIK LONEY, 1985-2006
Farewell to a hero
Family, friends say goodbye to Hartselle soldier killed in Iraq
By Deangelo McDaniel
For almost a minute, the more than 500 people at Jon-Erik Loney’s funeral stood and clapped.
The applause came in response to Maj. Gen. James Pillsbury’s comments.
“Have you heard of this stupid show called ‘American Idol’?” he said.
Pillsbury, who is post commander at Redstone Arsenal, turned to Cpl. Loney’s flag-draped coffin, put his hand on it and said: “This is my American Idol.”
The applause followed.
Friends and family members gathered Saturday at Bible Baptist Church.
An improvised explosive device killed the 2003 Danville High School graduate Nov. 28 while he was driving a vehicle in Iraq.
He was 21.
Family members said they are still not sure whether a remote control detonated the bomb or he ran over it.
“I’m going to miss him,” brother Josh Loney said. “I’m really going to miss my big brother.”
Lt. Col. Thomas Graves said Loney died while his unit was en route to a U.S. post in Hit to prevent a mortar attack on American forces.
Since his regiment arrived in January, he was the seventh American service member killed during combat operations in Hit.
He was the 2,881st U.S. service member killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003.
Following a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps, he was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
At the cemetery, Pillsbury presented his mother, Violet Kaylor, and her husband, Jim “Bo” Kaylor, with the flag from his coffin.
His father, Jamie Loney of Stedman, N.C., received a second American flag.
“He swore to defend this country and he did,” Pillsbury said before presenting Loney’s mother with his Purple Heart and Bronze Star at the church.
Representatives from Gov. Bob Riley’s office presented the family the Alabama Distinguished Service Medal and an Alabama flag.
“Jon-Erik was my hero, and he always will be,” an emotional Bo Kaylor said.
Just about everyone who talked about Loney on Saturday mentioned his smile. No matter where you met him, they said, you were guaranteed two things: an infectious smile and a conversation about music.
“He was laid back, and he always wanted to play that guitar,” said Danny Pepper, who attended Danville High with him.
“He always smiled, he loved music and he loved to play pingpong,” Pepper added. “If you ever played him in pingpong, you knew you had been in a match. He will be missed.”
Loney was in the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry.
He joined the Army in February 2005.
“He knew he would probably go into combat,” Pillsbury said.
He went to Iraq for the first time on Jan. 13, but returned almost two months later on leave. He left home for the last time on April 9.
“That was his birthday,” Bo Kaylor said.
Loney’s parents had planned to see their son in February and celebrate a late Christmas.
“You will see Jon-Erik again in heaven,” the Rev. Glenn Swaggerty told the family. “He has run this race and is now receiving his reward. He is living in the presence of God.”
Swaggerty said his cousin served because he believed in liberty and freedom.
“His cause is not lost today,” Swaggerty said. “His cause and he will not be forgotten.”
The Rev. Harold Swaggerty said Loney died a servant of God and while serving his country. He talked about his legacy.
“He was there in Iraq on our behalf doing a dangerous job so you and I won’t have to,” Harold Swaggerty said.
He read a letter from a soldier who had been with Loney since basic training. The letter basically said he was the only soldier in the platoon who smiled and made everything seem OK no matter how bad it was.
“He has touched a lot of people,” Harold Swaggerty said. “That young man’s smile has helped a lot of people. What a legacy to leave.”
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, mostly veterans, led the processional from the funeral home to the church and cemetery.
Bill Lines, a Vietnam War veteran and national director of the organization, said it’s important for them to show family members that their son matters and that his death was not in vain.
“He died protecting the freedoms that we so cherish,” Lines said. “The family deserves to be shown all the dignity and respect we can provide.”
“We hope to provide a little comfort to the family by letting them know that somebody cares,” Ride Captain Tommy Poss of Florence said.
The city of Hartselle lined U.S. 31 and Alabama 36 with American flags and lowered the flag at City Hall to half staff.
Mayor Dwight Tankersley called Loney’s death a tragedy.
“As a father, I can’t let myself imagine what you must be going through,” he told the family. “I can only pray that God will somehow comfort you and that time will allow you to cherish your memories of Jon-Erik.”
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