LIANE HANSEN, host:
Jason Palmerton, a 25-year-old soldier from Auburn, Nebraska, was killed last month in a firefight in Afghanistan. Palmerton was a member of the Special Forces, a Green Beret, and the second soldier from Nebraska to die in Afghanistan. As Fred Knapp of Nebraska Public Radio reports, to those who knew Palmerton, he was someone who made you laugh and he seemed more likely to have a video game than a gun in his hand.
FRED KNAPP reporting:
It's a long and, in some ways, unlikely journey that took Jason Palmerton from the green farm fields bordering his high-school home to the green lawns of Arlington National Cemetery. Those who knew him growing up thought a lot of him but not as a future soldier. Jason was smart, worked hard at what he put his mind to and was quite the joker. His sister, Amanda Palmerton, describes as perhaps only a big sister could Jason's performances with the high-school speech team.
Ms. AMANDA PALMERTON (Sister of Jason Palmerton): He did humor us. He would stand up and he'd do the humorous speeches. He made great faces and he wasn't afraid to get up and look like an idiot in front of people. You know, it was easy for him (laughs).
KNAPP: Photos from those days showed Jason the cutup, a baby-faced kid behind Harry Potter glasses. But beneath that, another Jason was emerging: a hardworking young man with strong opinions. John Handlez(p), Palmerton's boss in a meat processing plant, where he worked after high school, recalls him showing up even when told he could call in sick. He took some college classes, but co-workers say he seemed to be searching for direction. Handlez says some of Palmerton's political views made his July 2002 enlistment that much more surprising.
Mr. JOHN HANDLEZ (Palmerton's Former Boss): And he didn't like handguns, didn't believe the common person should own handguns. And when he told us he was going to join the military, we told him, `Jason, they're going to make you use handguns, you know? You don't like them.' `Well, that's different, 'cause that's the Army, and that's OK.'
KNAPP: Like many, Palmerton was motivated by the September 11th attacks. A friend who's now in the Peace Corps says Jason talked about responding not with vengeance but by helping oppressed people. Amanda Palmerton says Jason's decision to try for the Green Beret fit with those ideas.
Ms. PALMERTON: He wanted to be in the Green Beret because they help. They go out and they teach you, and they're the guys they call in for rescue and they do everything. He didn't want to be the person that goes in and just shoots things, you know? He wanted something more than that, and he wanted to be a person that helps and rebuilds instead of just destroys.
KNAPP: Palmerton earned his Green Beret and was sent to Afghanistan in June to help train the national army. On July 23rd while on patrol near Kandahar, he was killed in a firefight.
At a memorial service a week later in Nebraska, fellow Green Beret Sergeant David Pickford summed up his fallen comrade.
(Soundbite of memorial service)
Sergeant DAVID PICKFORD (Palmerton's Fellow Green Beret): To me and many others, Jason was a constant source of laughter and strength. You can count on Jason to crack a joke at any time on anybody for anything. He was a man you could always count on no matter what task you put in front of him, and he took every job he had personally and made sure that everything he started he completed.
KNAPP: Jason Palmerton will complete his journey from Auburn to Arlington where he will be buried tomorrow.
For NPR News in Lincoln, Nebraska, I'm Fred Knapp.
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