Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jonathan D. Grassbaugh dies of injuries from I.E.D.

HAMPSTEAD – A U.S. Army Ranger captain with roots in Hampstead was killed last week by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq.

Last night, family members recalled Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh, 25, as an incredibly bright but reserved young man, and described him as "the epitome of an officer and a gentleman."

Grassbaugh, who was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., was a member of the 73rd Cavalry, 5th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division.

He was in his second deployment to Iraq, having returned home to visit family in New Hampshire last Christmas.

Grassbaugh's older brother, Jason Grassbaugh, 29, described his sibling as loyal and proud of his service in the Army.

"He definitely wanted to serve his country," Jason Grassbaugh said. "He was dedicated to serving the guys in his command. He was a great brother -- loyal always."

Grassbaugh married his wife, Jenna, 22, last June, just days after her graduation from Johns Hopkins, where they met as students and fellow ROTC members. He was deployed to Iraq just weeks later on July 31. In 2005 he spent two months in the country, on a special assignment attached to a general's staff.

Jenna Grassbaugh said her husband was devoted and affectionate, and said people who knew him liked him.

"He was a little reserved, but once you got to know him better he just surprised you with how amazingly sweet and considerate he could be," she said. "In a card on Valentine's Day he talked about all the wonderful things he wanted to do in the future. He wanted to have a family -- I think he would've made a great father."

Jenna Grassbaugh said her husband was a perfect gentleman and soldier.

"I always wanted him to break the rules and I'd ask him to talk to me (on the phone) a little bit extra, but he would talk as long as he was allowed," she said, "But nothing extra -- he wanted to do everything right."

She said she e-mailed with her husband whenever possible, and last heard from him on the day he was killed. Family members received the news of his death on Saturday. Last night friends and family gathered at the Grassbaugh's East Hampstead home.

Grassbaugh's father, Mark Grassbaugh, who was an Army Ranger in Vietnam, described his son as having a laser focus that helped him accomplish many things in his life.

"Once he knew what he wanted to do, he was extremely focused," Grassbaugh recalled. "And when he was focused there was no stopping him."

Grassbaugh was born in Ohio, but his family moved to Hampstead when he was in third grade. He attended both Hampstead Central School and Hampstead Middle School, where his mother, Patricia, is principal.

Later, he attended both Philip's Exeter Academy and Johns Hopkins University, where he studied computer science.

While a member of the Johns Hopkins University ROTC unit, Grassbaugh was elevated to battalion commander and was captain of the group's Ranger Challenge program.

Jenna Grassbaugh said her husband helped turn that program around and help it win several competitions. Grassbaugh also competed on the program's drill team, winning a national two-man competition.

Family members recalled how proud Grassbaugh was of his achievements with the ROTC and the Army, but his mother Patricia said his new life as a married man was what made him happiest.

"He was most proud of meeting Jenna," she said. "He said when he first saw her he knew she was the one."

Patricia Grassbaugh said she is touched with the support the family has received -- Gov. John Lynch called three times yesterday, she said.

Yesterday evening, around dusk, neighbors were out attaching red, white and blue ribbons to all the mailboxes in the neighborhood.

"What a loss for us as a family and for everyone," she said. "He was the best son anyone could ask for, a very good boy."

A letter was sent home yesterday with Hampstead Middle School students, informing them of their principal's son's death. According to Assistant Principal Owen Harrington, Grassbaugh died Saturday.

From the Leader