Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jon St. John has services ahead of internment

MENASHA — Three weeks before his expected birth date, Jon St. John II surprised everyone and entered this world on May 13, 1981, sporting white hair and big blue eyes.

In June 2005, just six credits short of earning a marketing degree from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, St. John again surprised his family by announcing he was leaving school to join the Army.

On Tuesday, family members, joined by hundreds of mourners, bid an early goodbye to St. John, who died Jan. 27 at the age of 25 in a roadside bomb blast near Baghdad, where he served with the 1st Cavalry Division.

"He was born three weeks early as he couldn't wait to see his family and the world," his mother, Kay St. John, told mourners gathered at Christ The Rock Church for her son's funeral. "Go, go, go was his nature. Jon wanted to experience everything."

St. John, known as "professor" to fellow soldiers, was one of three U.S. soldiers to die when a bomb detonated near their Humvee during convoy operations to Iraqi villagers.

Mourners lined up more than two hours before Tuesday's funeral to pay their respects to St. John's family.

"This is the 11th funeral I've attended for someone killed in the Iraq war, and it doesn't get any easier," said Mike "Pig Pen" Wright of Shawano, president of Chapter A of the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club. "I want to show these families the sacrifices made by their sons and daughters are appreciated."

Anne Norman of Appleton was one of seven members of the Clan Donald Pipe and Drums unit of Green Bay to play "Amazing Grace" as the casket was carried from the church by six members of the Fox Valley Metro Police Department, asked by the St. John family to serve as pallbearers.

"This is the seventh funeral like this I've played for. I cry at them all, but I can't let it happen until the service is over, otherwise I couldn't play," Norman said.

Gov. Jim Doyle joined mourners in calling St. John a hero.

"In his short 25 years he was asked to do more than most of us are asked to do in a lifetime," Doyle said.

The garage door at the family home on Cowlings Bay Road in the Town of Vinland serves as an unintended memory of St. John's years at St. Mary Central High School.

"The door still has dents from Jon practicing his tennis," Kay St. John said.

St. John's sister, Sonja, stared at the flag-draped casket bearing her brother's body as she recalled one incident in which she and Jon crashed on a bicycle.

"We crashed into a swamp with frogs and turtles. I never got to say thank you for that experience," she said.

A nine-member detachment of soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., stood watch over St. John's flag-shrouded casket before the funeral.

"Our purpose is to guard the family and the body, but it is mostly to show honor for the fallen soldier," said Staff Sgt. Tom Johnson.

Shortly before overseeing removal of the flag from the casket for presentation to St. John's parents, Johnson slipped three M-16 bullet casings into the triangular folds of the flag.

"They represent duty, honor and country," Johnson said.

Jon St. John Sr. praised the military for the respect shown his son's body.

"They couldn't have treated him any better had he been the president," he said.

After a separate, full military service, St. John's body was carried from the church by the Metro honor guard.

His body will be cremated, funeral officials said.

From the Northwestern

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