DEBORAH AMOS, host:
In Afghanistan earlier this month, Taliban fighters killed nine U.S. troops in one of the deadliest attacks in the past three years. One of those killed was Army Corporal Jon Ayers, posthumously awarded the bronze star and the Purple Heart. The Snellville, Georgia native is described by his friends and family as a by-the-book straight arrow kind of guy. Georgia Public Broadcasting's John Sepulvado has this remembrance.
JOHN SEPULVADO: Even as a kid, Jon Ayers gave clues as to what kind of adult he would likely be. His father, Bill Ayers, sits in the living room of his two-story metro Atlanta home and lists a few of those clues. He says when Jon was three years old he threw a fit because his dad's dress shoes were dirty. Then about a year later, four-year-old John did something that still brings a smile to his father's face.
Mr. BILL AYERS (Father): His first soccer coach drew an imaginary box out there and said, here, you know, if the other players start coming through here to, you know, take the ball away. Well, Jon did a great job as long as it was in that little box area, but if they go around it, he'd just let them by; it wasn't in the box.
SEPULVADO: And by high school Jon was giving orders in the Junior ROTC. His dad videotaped every drill competition.
(Soundbite of drill)
SEPULVADO: And that's Jon right there. Six foot tall, blond haired, blue eyed, leading his color guard six years ago. He was so good at it that Jon was recruited by colleges. Yet in a rare departure from the straight and narrow, Jon ended up refusing those offers.
Mr. AYERS: You know, he decided he wanted to go to a private school, and of course that way daddy could pay for it. So you know, I was not happy.
SEPULVADO: His mother, Suzanne Ayes, says that decision really had to do a lot with a girl that Jon liked at the time. Suzanne spent a lot of time with her son, much of it playing golf. She turned Jon onto it when he was 11.
(Soundbite of footsteps)
SEPULVADO: And in the Ayers family garage, apart from all the organized clutter of sporting equipment and power tools, there are two golf bags. One belongs to Suzanne. The other belonged to Jon.
Ms. SUZANNE AYERS (Jon's mother): This is a driver. I actually bought this one for myself and I couldn't hit it. And I gave it to Jon and he can knock it a long way.
SEPULVADO: She holds the driver and pauses as she tries to compose herself.
Ms. AYERS: Like I said, his favorite club was his three iron. And I don't have that one here with me.
SEPULVADO: That's because Suzanne Ayers buried it in her son's casket.
James Schmidt, an Army specialist, served with Ayers in Afghanistan. And Schmidt says even there golf was often on his mind. Schmidt says they spent a lot of time watching the Special Forces guys whack golf balls while they dreamed about where they would play when they got the chance.
Specialist JAMES SCHMIDT (U.S. Army): We talked about going out to Italy and hitting the courses out there near Vicenza, playing together, arguing about who was going to beat who, talk about who could drive the ball the farthest and all that good stuff.
SEPULVADO: Jon Ayers was competitive with his mother too, although she says when they played golf her son always lost. She concedes that probably would've have changed this summer. They made plans to play a few rounds of golf when Ayers came home on leave.
Twenty-four-year-old Jon Ayers was killed in a firefight with Taliban insurgents just a few days before he was scheduled to return home.
For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado in Rome, Georgia.
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