Fallen soldier lain to rest

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Although their hearts obviously were breaking, Pfc. John Eli Brown's family held their heads high and with great pride as the young soldier was laid to rest Wednesday afternoon.

Had it not been for the hearse and the shiny, black limousine, one might have mistaken the funeral procession for a patriotic caravan.

The American flag waved from many of the vehicles in honor of the young soldier who had made the supreme sacrifice in service to his country. Many of the mourners were wearing red, white and blue ribbons in his honor and one man removed a yellow ribbon from his shirt.

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With tears in his eyes, he said, "I can take this off now because Johnny has come home."

Park Memorial United Methodist Church was filled to overflowing with those who had come remember the young man who had realized his dream of becoming a soldier. He was a proud and decorated member of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

Brown was one of the fortunate young men who know what they want in life and go after it.

And he was that confident soldier who was fondly and lovingly remembered on a bright spring afternoon.

The Rev. Steve Rascoe said Johnny Brown had a vision and a goal.

"I think Johnny's vision and goal grew on him," he said. "I'm not sure that he knew exactly what that his goal was when he first went to Iraq, but, as he went into Baghdad and was able to share with the children there, he caught the importance of what the war was all about.

"Johnny was extremely proud to be there as a soldier. As soldiers in Christ we are challenged to be athletes and farmers."

Johnny Brown responded to that challenge and he ran the good race and, in the end, made the supreme sacrifice.

"Johnny served his country and his community and I hope that we don't lose what he did," Rascoe said. "He had a strong faith. He was a loving person. He helped to plant a seed that will hopefully be cultivated, grow and bear fruit. We should all rally around the people of our armed forces and we must do so in faith. We have such an awesome God and we must have faith in the hope and promise of the days ahead."

Johnny Brown was also that young American hero for whom a 21-gun salute rang through the rural countryside Wednesday afternoon and for whom "Taps" was played at Ramah Cemetery.

The Rev. Kevin Krist, former youth minister of Park Memorial, said Brown was one of the most loving, giving young people he has ever had the pleasure of knowing.

As Brown's youth minister, Krist said the two of them often had deep conversations. "Johnny was a deep thinker and a concerned and caring young man," he said.

Brown is a hero today because of the sacrifice he made in defense of his country and in pursuit of freedom, Krist said.

"But Johnny Brown was already a hero. He was a hero before he went to war. He was a hero because of all the things he had overcome in life. And Johnny would not want tears and crying today He didn't want people to be sad. He liked to make people laugh. He had reached his goal. He had done what he wanted to do. He had made a difference. He would want us to remember that."

Brig. Gen. Gregory J. Premo, U.S. Army Chief of Staff's representative to the Brown family, said Johnny Brown had made a difference in this world that will reverberate for many years to come.

"He knew that because he saw it in the faces of the children of Iraq," Premo said. "He would not want sadness. He would want us to remember him as a soldier, a liberator. We also will remember him as a hero."

Perhaps the words of a song by the group 3 Doors Down best summed up the person Johnny Brown really was.

The large gathering of family and friends stood motionless at the graveside of the fallen soldier as the words of "When I'm Gone" filled the silence.

"Hold me when I'm here; Love me when I'm wrong. Hold me when I'm scared; And love me when I'm gone. Everything I am; And everything you need: I'll also be the one; You wanted me to be. I'll never let you down; Even if I could. I'd give up everything; If only for the good. So, hold me when I'm here; Love me when I'm wrong. You can hold me when I'm scared; You won't always be there; So love me when I'm gone."

Johnny Brown didn't let anyone down, Krist said. "And he is so loved."