Thursday, August 16, 2007

J.J. Bonnell laid to rest

Sgt. Jon Bonnell Jr. lived life to the hilt, loved baseball, and knew he was in danger of dying on his second tour to Iraq.

Stories like that spilled out at his funeral Monday, held at Fort Dodge Senior High School.

Bonnell, 22, a U.S. Marine from Fort Dodge, was killed Aug. 6 in Iraq when he stepped on a roadside bomb while on duty between Baghdad and Fallujah.

Family and clergy talked about the exuberance with which Bonnell, known by family as "J.J.," lived his life, an energy that followed him into the battlefields of Iraq, where he said he was doing a job he loved even if it concerned his family.

"He loved doing what he did, and he gave the ultimate sacrifice, and what really got me: He was ready for it," Bonnell's uncle, Mark Bonnell of Boone, said after the funeral. "He said he was ready for the ultimate sacrifice."

The Rev. Bill Kerns of First Christian Church in Fort Dodge described J.J. Bonnell as artistic and athletic and a fun-loving person who saw horrible things cleaning up wreckage from the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and serving in the war in Iraq.

Mark Bonnell said his nephew talked about his readiness to die when he was deployed to Iraq for a second time.

He left for that tour on Memorial Day. He was scheduled to return to the United States in October.

"And that's coming from a 22-year-old. Man, it's hard to believe," Mark Bonnell said. "He's seen more in his 22 years than most people have seen in a lifetime. Not all bad - he saw good - but he saw some bad things too."

Mark Bonnell said neither he nor Jon Bonnell Sr., the Marine's father, heard much about Iraq when Jon Bonnell Jr. came home on leave.

"I think he just kind of held it into himself," he said. "My brother never really said he talked about it."

Bonnell's readiness for death was also chronicled in his last letter to his mother. His older sister, Tasha Rork of Fort Dodge, read the letter he wrote to his mother while in Iraq. It was dated July 6, 2007.

He wrote that two days earlier, the Fourth of July, he had spent his day driving around looking for roadside bombs, Rork said.

"J.J. says, 'Everyone is prepared to make an ultimate sacrifice,' " Rork read. "I know you don't like me being here, but I love this job. As long as I'm having fun, my mind is good." Bonnell ended the letter with this: "I hope everything is good with the 'fam.' I know, as good as it can be. Tell Terry I'm ready for some real BBQ. Love you, Mom. Your son, Jon."

Bonnell died a month later, on Aug. 6. "We are so proud of you," Rork said after reading the letter, choked up and almost crying. "We love you, and you will be forever missed."

Bonnell is the 59th person with Iowa ties to die since March 2003 in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of Monday, at least 3,691 members of the U.S. military had died in Iraq since the beginning of the war there, according to an Associated Press count.

More than 600 people attended Bonnell's funeral.

Flags lined the streets on the way to the service. Inside, a series of handmade signs taped on the high school walls read "J.J. Bonnell Fort Dodge Hero" and "Till we meet again, we love you."

A slide show of photos of Bonnell was played at the service. It flashed pictures of him as a wide-smiling little boy growing up, as a baseball-wielding adolescent, and as a man in Iraq clutching a gun.

Five Marines in uniform stood up in the middle of the sitting crowd during the presentation and wiped their eyes with their white gloves.

"J.J. was not particularly religious, yet as far as I am concerned, he understood what God expected of us," Kerns said near the end of the service. "J.J. lived - as you saw the video and for those of you who knew him - J.J. lived life to the hilt and shared God's love to those who needed it.

"Above everything else, we will remember J.J. for his unselfishness. ... I don't care if you oppose the war. I don't care if you support the war. We are all proud of J.J."

From the Des Moines Register

Related Link:
J.J. (Jon E.) Bonnell Jr. dies 'from wounds suffered while conducting combat operations'