Pvt. Johnathan Lee Gifford, U.S.M.C (KIA)
-- An emotionally charged group showered Marine Pvt. Jonathan Lee Gifford's family with
words of comfort and support Monday night.
About 40 men and women, most of whom have a family member serving
overseas in the armed forces, wrapped their arms around the two members of the Gifford
family who attended a support group at Grace United Methodist Church.
Mourners have filled 25 pages in books displayed in the church's
foyer with their messages of condolence and memories of their friend and relative.
The family of Gifford -- a 30-year-old Marine who was listed as
missing since his unit was ambushed in southern Iraq on March 23 -- was told Friday night
that the infantryman was killed in action.
Dave Gaumer -- one of the leaders of Operation Enduring Support,
a group that has been meeting weekly since before the war in Iraq began -- presented
Gifford's grandmother, Reva Godfrey, with a Gold Star Flag.
Struggling to control his emotions, Gaumer told the hushed crowd
of 40 people that Gold Star Flags have been awarded since 1918 in honor of those who have
made the supreme sacrifice for their country.
"This is to say how proud we are of Jon and how bad we
feel," Gaumer said as he handed the rolled flag to Godfrey.
Godfrey and Gifford's mother, Vicky J. Langley, have been regular
members of the support group since it was started in February. Langley, who spent the day
working on funeral arrangements, did not attend Monday night. Godfrey said she was sitting
with Jonathan's 4-year-old daughter, Lexie.
Godfrey said the Marines, who have visited with her and Langley
several times, told her a few more details about how Gifford was killed.
She said he was in a half-track, which has a big gun. An earlier
report said this was an "amtrak," an armored assault vehicle.
"They got the tank in front of Johnny," Godfrey said.
"The others got out, but Johnny didn't."
A report the Marine Corps sent to U.S. Rep. Lane Evans in March
said his unit was ambushed while securing bridges in the vicinity of An Nasiriyah.
"The enemy mounted a determined attack from the buildings in
the immediate area," the report said. "A fierce firefight erupted during and
after the seizures of the bridges."
Godfrey said others were killed at the same time as her grandson.
The family is still waiting for the completion of DNA testing to
be done on Gifford's remains, before his body can be returned to Decatur for burial,
The Marine Corps received notice Friday from the Dover Mortuary
that Gifford's body was positively identified, according to a Marine Corps report released
The military mortuary, at Dover Air Force Base, Del., has been
used to identify the remains of the Columbia space shuttle astronauts, as well as the
victims of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon.
Support group members are planning various ways to help the
family financially, including a benefit luncheon at the church on Mother's Day, May 11. A
tree will be planted in Gifford's honor somewhere in Decatur.
Godfrey, who was accompanied at the meeting by her other
daughter, Kitty Smith, told the group that despite the tragedy, she felt blessed.
She said she woke up early Monday morning with the sense that
Jonathan was with her, rubbing her back, shoulders and arms.
"He said, 'It's all right, Grandma,' " Godfrey told the
group. "He took my hand. I was touched by Johnny, and I feel better."