Yesterday I had the distinct honor and privilege of attending the ceremony honoring the valor of Cpl Jonathan Ayers and the presentation of the posthumous award of the Silver Star to his family.
I expected a somber event. But it was instead, by direction of Cpl Ayers mother Suzanne, a celebration of his life. Cpl Ayers served with Chosen Company, 2nd Bn, (Airborne) 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd ABCT in Afghanistan.
That company compiled an impressive combat record there, but at a cost. Over 60 of the Chosen were awarded Purple Hearts, 16 of them posthumously. Cpl Jonathan Ayers was killed in action in the battle of Wanat, where 9 Sky Soldiers lost their lives. According to those who witnessed Cpl Ayers heroics, he epitomized the nickname by which the regiment is known: The Rock.
At another spot on the observation post, Spc. Jonathan Ayers laid down continuous fire from an M-240 machine gun, despite drawing huge volumes of small-arms and RPG fire from the enemy.
At least 5 or 6 RPGs exploded all around him and he never even flinched. Those that saw what he did said, "He just kept rocking on that 240."
The survivors said it was the most heroic thing they'd ever seen. Like a movie. They feel he saved their lives.He kept the enemy from getting anywhere near COP.
That's from an excerpt from the audio version of a Someone You Should Know segment we did on that battle.
One of the things I was most impressed with during yesterday's ceremony was the level of support from the community.
Snellville is a suburban Atlanta town, and, as we all know, life sometimes seems too busy for things like this. But that wasn't the case yesterday. The auditorium at Shiloh High School, where Jon graduated, was packed. The Patriot Guard lined the walls with flags. There were dignitaries from state government (who announced the State Legislature had unanimously voted to name an intersection in Snellville the "Cpl Jonathan Ayers Intersection"), the Mayor of Snellville (who declared yesterday "Cpl Jonathan Ayers Day" in Snellville) and, of course, the military community.
Members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association were there. And the entire Shiloh High JROTC detachment was there acting as escorts and ushers.
The Major in charge of the ceremony said he'd contacted the 173rd ABCT to see if they would like to send a letter from the commander or some pictures for the ceremony. Instead, they sent Cpl Ayer's entire platoon. Additionally his former battalion commander was on hand to read the Silver Star citation and his former company commander there to honor his memory.
During the presentation of the award, the entire platoon was on stage with the family. You could really feel the closeness of the bonds between those who had survived Wanat and the family of Cpl Ayers. It was heartwarming to say the least.
Probably the most gratifying moment for me, besides the award, took place as everyone was leaving. The family had been escorted off the stage, and other members of the family in the audience were allowed to leave before anyone else left. Then Cpl Ayer's platoon mates stood and began to file out from the front of the auditorium. The entire crowd, unbidden, stood and gave them a standing ovation as they left, many patting them on the back and shoulders as they passed by. I saw a few glistening eyes in both the crowd and among the platoon members.
Cpl Jon Ayers would have been very proud of both his comrades and his hometown.