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Saying goodbye difficult for Browns

Ed and Bonnie Brown know more than any couple should about saying goodbye.

Ed was deployed to Saudi Arabia with the 900th Maintenance Unit of the Alabama National Guard 12 years ago. Saying goodbye was hard, but when Bonnie came home and Ed wasn't there, it was like a part of her had died.

In February, the couple was again called upon to say goodbye. This time it was their son, Pfc. John Brown who was being deployed.

Bonnie said she had thought saying goodbye to her husband was the hardest thing she'd had to do "until now."

"It's different when it's your son," she said. "He's part of you."

Ed's wish was that he could go in his son's place. He knew that, as a member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division air defense unit, Johnny probably would be "in the thick of things" but his son was prepared for just that.

John Brown had been a member of the Alabama National Guard but wanted to go active duty.

"That was what he wanted to do so we encouraged him," Bonnie said. "He joined the Army and wanted to be a member of the air assault unit. He worked very hard to get his wings and we were so proud of him. But I also felt a little guilty knowing that the United States would probably go to war and he would be involved

and that we encouraged him."

But it's not encouragement that makes a soldier. It's courage. Johnny Brown had plenty of that.

The young soldier knew the risks involved in military action and he knew that some soldiers would pay the ultimate price in order to bring freedom to an oppressed nation.

He told his parents if anything should happen to him that he wanted them to remember that he was doing what he wanted to do. He asked them to be proud of him.

Johnny Brown talked to his parents by telephone from Iraq on April 9. He talked about the children who showered the soldiers with smiles, hugs and kisses. He was elated to have been a part of bringing freedom to their country and a future that now holds hope and promise for them.

The young soldier again told his parents that if anything happened to him to hold their heads high and be proud of him because he was doing what he wanted to do.

On the morning of April 14 at a checkpoint south of Baghdad, Pentagon officials said that Brown and Spec. Thomas Foley III were performing maintenance work on a vehicle when a grenade accidentally detonated.

That night a knock was heard at the door of Ed and Bonnie Brown. It was a knock that the parents of every soldier fear they might hear.

Ed and Bonnie Brown were there when the 101st Airborne was deployed in February. They thought saying goodbye then was the hardest thing they had ever had to do until today when they said a final goodbye to their son - their soldier - an American hero.

The Browns know their son died doing what he wanted to do and Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford said he knows that Johnny Brown had become what he wanted to be.

"Many people live all their lives and never accomplish what they want to in life," Lunsford said. "In his young life, Johnny Brown accomplished what he wanted to accomplish. He wanted to be a soldier and I have no doubt that he was an excellent soldier. He reached the epitome of manhood when he became a member the 101st Airborne Division air assault. He wanted to make a difference in the world and what a difference he helped to make in the lives of the people of Iraq. We can all be proud that we knew him and we'll never forget the sacrifice he made. Johnny Brown was a true patriot and a real American hero."