RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The coastal North Carolina town of Washington is mourning the death of Army Specialist Kevin Jones. He was killed by a roadside bomb while serving on his second tour in Iraq. Friends recall the 21-year-old as a sensitive man deeply affected by the ongoing debate over US operations in Iraq. North Carolina Public Radio's Lorne Matalon has this remembrance.
LORNE MATALON reporting:
Friends say Kevin McCray Jones was a rambunctious child, one who loved to roam and discover, a Boy Scout who once nurtured a wayward turtle before returning it to the sea. The path he followed to the Army began in ROTC class at Washington High School. Tom Meeks was Jones' ROTC instructor. He's teaching a new class how to move in unison as his students get ready for a parade.
Mr. TOM MEEKS (ROTC Instructor): Do the salute. OK. Push it up higher. There you go.
MATALON: Meeks says Jones always came back to the school when he was on leave.
Mr. MEEKS: He always had that big smile. If you've seen pictures of him, the smile was always there. When he was having a good time, his smile was all over him.
MATALON: Jones was an athletic dark-haired six-footer who loved playing high school football. He brought that same energy and enthusiasm to the area's volunteer fire department.
Fire Chief ROBBY ROBERSON(ph): Kevin was a lightbulb.
MATALON: Chief Robby Roberson trained Jones.
Chief ROBERSON: Kevin was a kid that, if you give an order to or a job to do, and you didn't have to worry. He was one that would go now and finish your job.
MATALON: Jones is the youngest in a family of achievers. His father is a NASA engineer, his mother a registered nurse, his brother a successful entrepreneur, his sister a physician. At the family home, neighbors are coming by and calling.
Ms. KAMLYN JONES (Sister): Mama's doing pretty good. She's had more visitors today than she has...
MATALON: Ken Jones says as a child, his brother liked to play soldier. As an adult, he says that passion was tempered and refined by the reality of war. Jones temporarily lost his hearing after a previous explosion. He was awarded a Purple Heart after that incident, but he refused to wear it because, his brother says, he felt he didn't deserve the award.
Mr. KEN JONES (Brother): He didn't want war. He never wanted to learn what it was like to pull the trigger and be shooting at a human being. But he learned to listen and pay attention to what's going on in the world. A lot of the world nowadays, especially since the end of the Cold War, is like a bunch of school-yard bullies. They're not going to go pick on the kid that knows a third-degree black belt. They're going to go pick on the kid that can't defend himself. My brother viewed himself as joining the Army and getting that third-degree black belt, and it's their job to defend those that can't.
MATALON: On leave last year, distraught over anti-war protests, Jones wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. His sister Kamlyn says Jones wanted to speak out.
Ms. JONES: He needed to express the fact that people need to support the troops, and they need to be thankful that they've got somebody watching over them 24 hours a day seven days a week, every week of this year. And we should be thankful that there are people out there willing to give their lives to protect us.
MATALON: Jones' mother Rebecca says were it not for her Southern Baptist faith, she couldn't cope right now.
Ms. REBECCA JONES (Mother): He joined the Army because he felt that's where God was leading him, and when he got to Iraq, he felt the necessity of his mission there.
MATALON: An embedded reporter says Kevin Jones comforted another wounded soldier as both were flown away from the scene. He's now been awarded a Bronze Star, a second Purple Heart and been promoted to corporal. For NPR News, I'm Lorne Matalon.
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
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