Saturday, April 14, 2007

James Coon laid to rest

WALNUT CREEK -- Under a drenching spring rain, several hundred family and friends mourned slain soldier James Jack Coon in a somber military funeral in Civic Park on Saturday morning.

Coon, 22, died April 4 of a sniper's bullet in Bilad, Iraq, where he was an Army specialist who had accumulated an impressive military record that included a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

The soggy skies mirrored a tearful audience moved by their memories of the young Walnut Creek man and the military funeral, one of this nation's most symbolic ceremonies.

Smartly uniformed pallbearers slowly carried Coon's flag-draped coffin through the park to a gazebo festooned with red, white and blue flowers while a bagpipe moaned over the sound of the falling rain.

A 21-gun salute preceded the traditional and heartbreaking presentation to Coon's father and step-mother, Jim and Marie, of the American flag that covered their son's casket throughout the service.

Retired United Church of Christ Rev. Carolyn Woodson delivered the eulogy of Coon's short but full life.

Born in 1984 in Walnut Creek, Coon would grow into a star punter on the Las Lomas High School football team even as he coped with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Woodson described Coon as a gregarious and unusually tall young man -- 6 foot, 6 inches -- with no shortage of girlfriends who loved to dance, skydive and ride motorcycles. He also won a national dart-throwing championship at age 17 and went on to place fifth in the world.
Coon attended Diablo Valley College and in 2005 joined the Army, which sent him to Iraq last October.

He would earn the Bronze Star for bravery after he ran unprotected in mid-March to help two injured soldiers in the wake of a bomb explosion.

But on April 4, a sniper bullet struck him in the head. The military told the family that Coon died following brain surgery at an Air Force hospital in Iraq.

The reverend concluded the eulogy with a story of the younger Coon's last visit home, where he and his father rented motorcycles and took a road trip to Santa Cruz.

"Let this be an object lesson," Woodson urged the mourners. "Let's make memories that we can hold in our hearts that even death cannot take away."

Those who grieved did not all know Coon.

They came, in large part, because they wanted to show appreciation for the soldier's ultimate sacrifice even at a time when many people, including Coon's father, have come to question the Iraq War.

Walnut Creek will honor Coon at the city's annual Memorial Day observance on May 28 with a new plaque at the Veterans Memorial Plaza. Coon is the first Walnut Creek soldier to lose his life in Iraq.

"Many in this community didn't know (Coon) but at a time such as this, we all feel, at a deeply personal level, a sense of genuine connection to him and his family," said Walnut Creek Mayor Sue Rainey during her brief remarks. " ... Let us never forget James Coon for doing his duty with honor and courage, and for purchasing with his life our undying respect and admiration."

The Blue Star Moms, a volunteer group that provides support to members of the military and their families, presented the Coons with a banner in honor of their son and hosted a reception following the service.

Several dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national group that attends military events including funerals as a show of support, lined the pathway as Coon's casket traveled through the park.

"We want to show that we care," said U.S. Submarine Service veteran Mark Meerbergen of Sacramento.

But for those who knew the young man they affectionately called "Jimmy," the service hit close to home and heart.

"It's been a rough week," said Craig Cateline of Lafayette, whose 21-year-old son, Neil, was Coon's close friend and college roommate.

But Neil couldn't attend the funeral. The two young men had joined the military together and Neil, a Navy medic, has been in Iraq a month.

"I had to tell Neil about Jimmy on a satellite phone," Cateline said. "Jimmy was a great kid. I want this to be the last dead kid."

From the CC Times

Related Link:
James Coon remembered

Related Link:
James J. Coon dies of injuries from I.E.D.