Funeral in Nevada for Army soldier killed in Afghanistan

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FALLON, Nev. -- Army Spec. Jason Disney was eulogized as a symbol of America's quest for global freedom as family, friends and military officials pledged to do their part to raise the young son he left behind.

"Someone once told me freedom is paid for with the blood of the men and women willing to fight for it," Army Spec. Jerry Keener Jr., Disney's brother-in-law, said during funeral services Friday.

"If you want to really honor him, go out and enjoy your freedom today because it's paid for."

Disney, 20, died Feb. 13 at Bagram Air Base, 40 miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan. An Army spokesman said earlier that Disney was using a cutting torch to remove a large piece of equipment from a wall when it came loose and fell on him.

About 200 people gathered in this rural agricultural community 60 miles east of Reno to say farewell to the 1999 Churchill County High School graduate who friends say joined the military to provide a better life for his son.

Jason Disney Jr., 3, sat with Disney's parents, Bryan and Karla Wade, in the front row of the small chapel where a large wreath of red, white and blue carnations stood next to Disney's open casket.

An occasional fighter jet en route to nearby Fallon Naval Air Station flew overhead as mourners remembered Disney as a good father and son who had a big heart and gentle spirit.

Chaplain Duane Vaughn asked God to bless the Wades with "strength, wisdom and loads of love," as they raise their grandson.

"We, as the tight-knit community of Fallon, have an obligation to do our part as well in molding this young life," Vaughn said. "We owe it to Jason and we owe it to ourselves."

Rep. Jim Gibbons, in a statement read by an aide, said Americans have been honoring untold heroes since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"Today Nevadans join to honor one of our own," Gibbons said. "He volunteered to put his life on the line to protect our freedoms."

Disney's commander from Fort Bragg, N.C., presented his mother with the flag that covered his casket at the burial near a veterans memorial monument in Churchill County Public Cemetery.

Local veterans carried service flags and a seven-man unit from Fort Bragg fired a 21-gun salute before a trumpeter played taps as a crowd of about 300 gathered around the casket. About 20 personnel from the North Carolina Army base attended the services.

"He was so well-liked," Brig. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody said after the burial service. "He touched the lives of so many in a positive way."

Dunwoody said she visited Disney's unit in Afghanistan in December and found morale high.

"They know what they are doing is important," she said. "I think there's a greater appreciation among Americans for their freedom. We may have taken it for granted. It is not free. Specialist Disney's ultimate sacrifice is a testament to that."

Around town, businesses and government buildings displayed their own signs of support for the family.

The flag at the 99-year-old Churchill County Courthouse flew at half-staff. The sign outside the Best Western Fallon Inn on U.S. 50 read, "We're proud of America's best, Jason Disney."

A welder and mechanic by training, Disney was assigned to the 7th Transportation Battalion at Fort Bragg. His unit was deployed to Afghanistan in November.

His parents last saw him just before he shipped out. And they last heard the sound of his voice in a brief telephone call the day before he died.

The Defense Department said Disney, who was born Antioch, Calif., was the 20th American to die in Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led mission against terrorism.

Jack McMindes, Nevada's state adjutant for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the large crowd at the simple service was a fitting tribute to Disney.

"The young man was in harm's way and gave his life for what the United States believes in," McMindes said.

A VFW official for 26 years, McMindes is among those who believe Disney is the first Nevada serviceman killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam war. He does not believe any Nevadans died in the Persian Gulf War or during U.S. military actions over the past two decades in Grenada, Panama or Somalia.

Rudy Calderon, who works with a Vietnam Veterans Center in Reno, said the last death on record was of an Army soldier, Richard Warren of Las Vegas, who died in April 1971.


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