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Fallen son comes home: Stright honored

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| November 2, 2009 11:00 PM

On a cool, crisp Monday afternoon with the Cabinet Mountains serving as the backdrop, soldiers who served in Sgt. 1st Class James R. Stright’s unit meticulously folded the American flag that had been draped over his coffin.

Nearing the conclusion of the full military funeral, the soldiers then marched in formation and disappeared out of sight around a few trees.

“Every warrior deserves the honors that they receive when they pass,” Major Tim Crowe, Montana National Guard public affairs officer, said following the graveside service. “It is poignant that he died in service to his country. J.R. was 29 years old … and to have the community come out and the unit from his home base here means an awful lot.”

Stright was killed on Oct. 23 while participating in a U.S. Army training exercise off the coast of Virginia. He was the crew chief aboard a MH-60L helicopter that crashed on the deck of the U.S. Navy ship, Arctic. The unit was training to board, search and seize ships that might have fallen under the control of terrorists or pirates.

Straight was the only soldier killed in the incident. Several others were injured.

Straight is survived by his father, Robert N. Stright, and his mother, Kathleen Stright – both of Libby. Two brothers, Sean Stright of Seattle, Wash., and Aaron Stright of Issaquah, Wash also survive him.

Stright joined the Army following his graduation from Libby High School in 1998. By 2003, he had joined the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment as a helicopter mechanic. He was assigned to the regiment’s C Company, 3rd Battalion, headquartered at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.

Crowe said that all of the members from Stright’s special ops unit were in attendance at Monday’s full military services. They flew into Spokane, Wash., late Saturday night and arrived in Libby by Sunday.

“To see that kind of command structure come across the country is unbelievable for me to see,” Crowe said.

The Montana National Guard issued a statement on behalf of the Stright family:

“The Stright family is extremely grateful and honored by the outpouring of support and condolences from across the state and nation in response to their loss,” Crowe said. “J.R. was proud and honored to serve his country and chose to do so from a point at the tip of the spear. He will be greatly missed and his sacrifices never forgotten.”

A number of other organizations were on hand for the services as well, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Patriot Guard Riders, an organization of motorcycle riders that shows respect for fallen heroes by attending funerals as invited guests of the family.

Montana Lt. Governor John Bollinger and John Walsh, Montana National Guard adjutant general, were among the dignitaries in attendance.

The funeral was held at Libby Christian Church with burial at City of Libby Cemetery.

Governor Brian Schweitzer ordered that the national and state flags be flown at half-staff from Monday morning until sundown on Tuesday evening in honor of Stright.