Saturday, October 29, 2005------------------------------------------------------------------------
Tribute to Cpl. Jonathan Spears (promoted to Cpl. posthumously)
PENSACOLA - Lance Cpl. Jonathan Spears, who shed some of the weight that made him a formidable football player before the Marines would let him enlist, is the first service member from the Pensacola area to die in Iraq.
The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that Spears, 21, of Molino, a rural community north of Pensacola, was killed by small-arms fire Sunday in Ar Ramadi. He had been with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division based at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
"He was one of the best sons a daddy could want," his father, Timothy Spears, said Tuesday as tears rolled down his cheeks. "He gave his life doing what he believed in, and he served his country proudly."
A 6-foot-1, 265-pound offensive lineman at Tat High School, he was too big and too bulky for the Marines. He worked at a home improvement store and attended Pensacola Junior College while dropping nearly 60 pounds.
By the time he came home on leave last month, he was down to 180 pounds.
His former football coach, Charlie Armstrong, didn't even recognize him. He told Armstrong he was unsure if he would re-enlist, thinking it might be time to pursue his plans of becoming an FBI or Secret Service agent.
"He was a great kid," Armstrong said. "He had to work for everything he got, but he was very motivated, very dedicated."
Family members said Spears, known as J.R., was a shy, polite young man who answered "Yes, sir" or "Yes, ma'am" long before he became a Marine.
When Spears joined the Marines in 2003, his father and mother, Marie Spears, pushed aside their fear and supported his decision.
"He loved his country, and he wanted a sense of purpose," uncle Edward Spears said. "The other services, he didn't say anything against them, but it was the Marines or nothing for him."
Spears told family members in an e-mail that his duty in Iraq fulfilled a search for purpose by helping ensure democracy for people who had never known it. He closed, as he always did, with a message for his mother: "Don't worry, Mom. I'll be fine."
Lance Cpl. Jonathan R. Spears, 21, of Molino, Fla. , died Oct. 23 from enemy small-arms fire while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
*NOTE: I just recently found out that "Lance" Cpl. Jonathan R. Spears was posthumously promoted to Corporal Jonathan Spears. That is how I am listing him in the tribute section. Marines only get promoted past Lance Corporal by merit. Jonathan Spears earned his promotion.
I watched the flag pass by one day,
I looked at him in uniform
I thought how many men like him
How many pilots' planes shot down?
I heard the sound of Taps one night,
I wondered just how many times
I thought of all the children,
I thought about a graveyard