Jerry Davich: Soldier’s death 10 years later: ‘We will never forget’
JERRY DAVICH April 6, 2014 7:18PM
Updated: May 8, 2014 9:25AM
Rebecca Amos Andree couldn’t suppress her emotions any longer while standing atop her kid brother’s grave site.
“It’s been a very rough road these past 10 years without J.D.,” she said through a fierce wind at Graceland Cemetery in Valparaiso. “I’ve come to realize just how close we really were. I miss him so much.”
On April 4, 2004, Army Spc. John Douglas “J.D.” Amos II was killed when an improvised explosive device hit his military vehicle in Iraq. He died after going into cardiac arrest on an evacuation airplane. He was 20 years old.
On Friday, precisely 10 years after that date, his family, friends and fellow soldiers gathered to remember the “sensitive, goofball of a kid” who joined the Army after being profoundly affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.
“I had to sign for him because he was just 17,” said his mother, Susan Amos, to the tearful guests huddling around J.D.’s grave. “He did exactly what he wanted to do. I wish he could be here longer with us but it was just not meant to be.”
J.D.’s father, John Amos of Las Vegas, choked back tears recalling his son’s birth and first steps as a toddler, then his first boot steps in the Army.
“I loved every single minute with J.D.,” he told mourners. “But he would have no regrets so nobody else should have regrets, either. He would not trade his place in heaven with anyone here.”
“J.D. laid his life down for us and it will never be easy,” he said. “But to have this many people remember you, you’ve done it right. I’m so proud of you son.”
Ten years ago, I remember attending J.D.’s funeral and burial, with eerily similar fall-like weather conditions. I also vividly remember visiting his Valparaiso home and listening to his heartbroken mother’s memories of her boy.
After the bright lights of the television network cameras clicked off, Susan exhaled and spoke of “J.D.” the person, not the soldier.
He was the type of kid who would sneak up to the deejay at family weddings to request “I Cross My Heart,” by George Strait, his mother’s all-time favorite song. Then he’d sashay over to his mom and request a dance.
He was the kind of kid who, while in junior high in Griffith, asked his mom to start calling him “John” instead of the childish-sounding J.D. Then, two weeks later, he asked to be called J.D. again. “Nobody knows me as John,” he told his mom.
He also was the kid who happily dressed up as Dopey for Halloween, while his sister, Becky, dressed as Snow White.
“He was as sensitive about 9-11 as he was about dancing with me at weddings or protecting his older sister,” his mother told me while looking through photo albums.
At J.D.’s funeral, I watched his sister stand alone in front of his casket.
Shrouded under an American flag, his body was flanked by wreaths and a photo collage of him from diapers to boot camp inside Dykes Funeral Home in Valparaiso. To this day, whenever I pass that funeral home I think of J.D., whom I never met.
J.D. wasn’t old enough to legally drink, but he was old enough to sacrifice his life for our freedoms, one veteran told me at the funeral a decade ago. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At his funeral, white-gloved, gray-haired war veterans limped past his casket, saluted, then shook their heads at another “band of brothers” member killed in action. His teary-eyed mother, sitting in the front row, nodded her head in quiet appreciation.
Then she returned her gaze to her boy’s casket, which Becky kissed not once but twice before it was lowered into the frigid ground.
The Rev. Wayne Rhodes offered Bible prayers during the funeral service, and he returned Friday to offer more prayers during the 10-year memorial.
During the memorial, his mother handed out Reese’s peanut butter Easter eggs.
“They were J.D.’s favorite,” she said with a smile.
Several of J.D.’s Army buddies said their goodbyes Friday while huddled around his grave. Among them was Jeffrey Adkins, Josh Grenard, Kelly Ward and Travis Montgomery, the Medivac pilot who was with J.D. after the attack.
They traveled from across the country to remember their fallen comrade, a few of them helping to organize the memorial. One by one, they crouched over his grave, touched his headstone and paid their respects. Nothing would keep them away from this ceremony, they said.
“Words are inadequate,” said Grenard, who lives in Chicago. “So raise your hand if J.D. Amos saved your life 10 years ago.”
Several hands immediately shot into the air, an impromptu band of brothers’ salute.
“Every single person who raised their hand is still alive because what you did for us. Every day when we wake up, we know you’re here because of what you did for us. All of us.”
A decade ago, J.D.’s loved ones promised they would never forget him.
On Friday, after a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps, one of J.D.’s fellow soldiers solemnly said it again, “We’ll never forget.”
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.