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Lonsberry: The death and remembrance of a hero

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“The Lord has given,” the rabbi said beside the grave, “and the Lord has taken away.”

A column by Bob Lonsberry, photo from WHAM 1180AM News Radio,

 People wear uniforms to show on the outside who they are on the inside.

 That’s what I gathered at the side of Jonathan Dean Jr.’s grave, and in the little chapel where they held his funeral. They talked about him, but it was really about all of them, about the light they follow and the lives they live.

“He could not sit down and do nothing when others were in need,” brother Randy said at the cemetery, with brother Chad adding at the chapel, “He always wanted to serve others.”

Randy is a Rochester city cop, Chad is a Secret Service agent, Jonathan’s dad is a retired sheriff’s deputy.

The graveside service was watched over by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, the honor guard at the door of the sanctuary was from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Rochester police officers stood silently in the back of both services.

The pipe and drum unit was comprised of a police officer, a fire chief and a retired senior master sergeant from the Air Force.

All men of the uniformed services. Come together to honor a hero related to some by blood and to all by spirit.

Jonathan’s uniform was the olive drab of the Israeli Defense Forces.

 He had that and his rifle and his kit and his demolition charges when they walked into the mosque. He was a combat engineer and the terrorists had a rocket cache in a tunnel system beneath the house of worship, weapons of war behind a façade of peace, and he was going in to destroy the weapons. “Always First,” is his battalion’s motto, and Jonathan Dean Jr. was first.

This was in Khan Unis, a couple of miles from the sea, where men have fought for millennia. Five hundred wars in five thousand years, at a crossroads of conquest and faith. Gaza, and the larger strip between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, have seen the armies of Alexander and Napolean, the Persians and the Ottomans, Richard the Lionhearted and Antipater the First.

It was here that Samson stood, fulfilling his life’s work on his last day, tumbling the Philistine temple around him, to slay the enemies of Israel’s God.

And it was here that Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dean Jr. stood, fulfilling his life’s work on his last day, fighting the enemies of Israel’s God.

The rocket propelled grenade entered the building and exploded, detonating the ordnance that the engineers were carrying.

“The Lord has given,” the rabbi said beside the grave, “and the Lord has taken away.”

It was out in the country, beside his grandfather, almost six thousand miles from where he fell. A bright sky, a chill wind, the Israeli flag over a wooden box. His mother and father in the front row, his siblings beside them, with words said and sung in Hebrew, English and Aramaic, and three Israeli officers in various uniforms participating.

It is a “just and righteous war,” the lieutenant colonel said, “but we are paying a heavy price.”

A letter from a senior commander was read: “Dear family, we’re sorry for your loss,” it opened, “May God give courage to his people; may he give them peace,” it closed.

There was the 23rd Psalm — a prayer of peace — and the 83rd Psalm — a prayer of war — and “Amazing Grace” as the bagpipes marched away.

His mother dropped in the first shovelful of dirt, his father the second, and then in turn all those in attendance, a last act of service, the rabbi said, to a friend gone on ahead.

At the church, there were slides projected, in the sanctuary above the pulpit, as the people gathered. In his fatigues with brothers at arms, as a little boy in replicas of his father’s Marine Corps and sheriff’s uniforms, as a young man with a smile and a swagger and a tendency to give the thumbs-up sign. On top of a mountain, by the sea, with friends at a pizza place, as a baby in his mother’s arms. But always the uniforms. The beige beret, his dad’s badge, the crest of the engineer.

Always the uniforms.

 He called often from basic training, his brother told the mourners, excited about what he was learning and what he would do.

“He really found his path,” Chad said. “He found his calling.

 “And he went out on his shield.”

Across the sanctuary, there was an understanding, an identification, a recognition of self in the description of this young man.

“All men die, but few actually live,” Chad said, to an audience sprinkled generously with those who had chosen to live. “God needed another warrior,” he told the warriors.

“He died helping people,” Randy said at the cemetery. “He died helping people, defending them, loving them.”

You could tell that about him, by the uniform he wore.

Like you could tell it of those who mourned him, by the uniforms they wore.

His brothers and sisters, if not of blood, then of spirit.

Bob Lonsberry, a Canisteo native, is the father of nine children, a veteran of the United States Army, and a newsman for nearly three decades. The former newspaper columnist, reporter, and author, is a marathon runner. You can hear Bob mornings on NewsRadio WHAM 1180 in Rochester and NewsRadio 570 WSYR and 106.9 FM in Syracuse. You can reach him at bob@lonsberry.com

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