Tuesday, April 10, 2007

James Coon remembered

Pfc. James Coon joined the Army because he wanted to make a difference. Three weeks ago, the 22-year-old Walnut Creek man risked his own life in an attempt to save two wounded comrades on the battlefield in Iraq.

It was that selflessness friends and family remembered Friday as they mourned the loss of the former Las Lomas High School graduate.

Coon, who loved daredevil sports and joking around with friends, died in Bilad, Iraq, on Wednesday when an improvised explosive device detonated near this vehicle.

Coon, a 2003 Las Lomas graduate, was a punter on a championship football team there and a rugged power forward and center on the JV basketball team, friends said.

He is the first recent Las Lomas alumnus to be killed in combat in Iraq, school administrators said.

Friends and relatives described Coon as an outgoing, adventurous man who went to Iraq because he felt he could make a difference.

"He was kind of a daredevil," said Matt Maher, a Las Lomas classmate who used to ride off-road motorcycles with Coon. "He was very fast. He was not afraid of sticking his neck out to have fun. He didn't hold back."

A towering 6-foot-3 and prone to joking with friends, Coon was a "hard figure to miss on campus," Maher said.

Coon's mother said Friday that he risked his life three weeks ago in a rescue attempt that had shaken him.

Coon ran from his vehicle without protection to put tourniquets on two soldiers wounded in a bomb attack. The two soldiers died, along with four others in the unit.
Coon's bravery and selflessness in that attack put him under consideration for a Bronze Star.

"It really disturbed him," said his mother, Deena Hayes-Coon. "He said at that point that he didn't want to play Army any more — he wanted to come home."

Coon's mother served in the Air Force and other relatives were in the Marines.

After graduating from Las Lomas High School, Coon attended Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill before joining the Army.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, the Department of Defense said.

His mother said Coon enlisted mostly to save money to buy a home.

"It's a little bit of a tough economic situation around here for a lot of young people," Hayes-Coon said.

Coon also joined the military "because he wanted to make a difference," said Adrianne Cataline of Lafayette, whose son was a good friend of the soldier.

Coon liked to skydive, snowboard, and climb mountains.

He made friends easily.

"He liked to joke around. He was usually in a good mood," said Pete Loeliger, a former Las Lomas football teammate who hiked the ball to Coon on punt plays. "He was known for dancing at our school rallies."

On the sport field, Coon was known for his determination in honing his skills over years to become an accomplished punter able to regularly kick 40 yards or more, Loeliger said.

"The punter doesn't get to go in that often," Loeliger said, "but he was always ready to practice and play."

Coon and Loeliger played together on the Las Lomas football team that won the 2002 North Coast Section championship.

"He was a very nice kid," said Pat Lickiss, the Los Lomas High principal. "He was very friendly. He always had a smile."

Lickiss said word of Coon's death spread quickly among former Las Lomas students and their parents even though the school is closed for vacation this week.

"Las Lomas is a very tight knit community," he said. "Anytime, you lose a current or former student, it's a tragedy."

Coon was remembered during a rally Friday evening at the crosses display in Lafayette, where participants erected a cross with his name.

He enjoyed hip-hop music, bowling and dancing and excelled at darts. He won a national darts championship as a teenager and went to England to represent the United States at a world tournament, his mother said. He placed fifth.

Read the rest at the Times

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