From all over Western New York, and points far and wide, hundreds of people turned out in Albion on Monday to honor Army Specialist Jason Johnston, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on December 26th.
Flags flew at half staff throughout Albion, but there were American flags everywhere in the town. Small American flags even decorated the shuttle buses that took people to the funeral home from the parking lots on Main Street and West Avenue.
Outside the funeral home, members of the Patriot Guard, working class guys paying tribute to a working class guy, lined the sidewalks and walkways, standing silently at parade rest and holding full size American flags.
The town was still digging out from the weekend storm that dumped another 10 inches of new snow on top of the snow already on the ground. The snow banks next to the sidewalks were waist high, but the sidewalks were well plowed so people could easily walk to the funeral home from all over town.
It continued to snow all day, the third straight day of snow, and driving was treacherous, but people went out of their way to be polite.
Inside the funeral home, family, friends, neighbors, and fellow soldiers lined up to pay their respects to Jason’s parents, Brad and Jenny, and his three sisters, Carrie, Holly, and Heather.
Two soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Brigade, one man and one woman, sat in the front row next to Brad’s brother. A cavalry officer, wearing a black coat and black Stetson hat, paid his respects by saluting the flag-draped casket as members of the Albion Fire Department gather quietly in the next room.
Good night, sweet Prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
Hamlet, Act V, Scene ii
It was a closed-casket wake, and on top of his flag-draped coffin there was a photo of Jason in his Class-A uniform and maroon paratrooper beret. In the photo, Jason had three rows of medals on his chest.
To the right of the coffin, two flag stands held an American Legion flag and a Veterans of Foreign War (VFW) flag, while to the left of the coffin there was a small table holding the citations for the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart awarded to Jason.
Today, shots will ring out over Albion, and a soldier will present that folded flag to Jason’s mother, Jenny. Then the snow will cover the freshly dug grave.
It’s up to us to keep his memory alive.
For more information see: A soldier’s photo in the newspaper, Funeral arrangements for local soldier killed in Afghanistan, and Cell Phones for Soldiers.