Staff Sgt. James Hunter loved his country, loved the U.S. Army and "had a heart for trying to help wherever he was needed," his father said.
Hunter, 25, who was born in Lexington and loved Kentucky even though he grew up in Northern Ohio, was trying to help in Afghanistan on Friday when he was killed in an insurgent bomb blast, said his father, William "Tom" Hunter, of Winchester.
James Hunter was a member of the Fort Campbell-based 101st Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Another soldier died in the same incident.
"They were on a foot patrol," Tom Hunter said Saturday. "There is still an investigation going on, but apparently James and another soldier were wounded when a bomb exploded. I don't know if it was a roadside bomb or an IED (improvised explosive device)."
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Tom Hunter was informed of his son's death late Friday afternoon, when five uniformed Army representatives from Fort Knox drove up to his Winchester home.
"Being a veteran myself, when I saw them I knew the news couldn't be good," Tom Hunter said.
The 101st Airborne only recently arrived in Afghanistan, but already has suffered casualties. The Army said a member of the division from New York was killed earlier in the week when his unit was hit by small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in eastern Afghanistan.
James Hunter had been in Afghanistan one week short of a month. But he already was a war veteran, having served two previous combat tours in Iraq, his father said.
Tom Hunter spoke by telephone Saturday afternoon from Dover, Del., where he is waiting for his son's body at Dover Air Force Base, the arrival station for American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Other family members on hand are James Hunter's mother, Patricia Phillips of Birmingham, Ohio; James' oldest brother; and James' fiancée, Candice Clark of Illinois. James and Candice became engaged on Valentine's Day, atop the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
"We're just up here to honor him when they take him off the aircraft," Tom Hunter said.
According to the family, James Hunter's body is expected to arrive at Dover on Sunday, but may remain there for military processing until Wednesday.
Tom Hunter said the body will be moved to Northern Ohio for a stop of about 72 hours, and then transferred to Winchester for funeral services there. Funeral information is not yet available.
Burial will be in the veterans' section of the Lexington Cemetery.
"That was his wish," Tom Hunter said.
Tom Hunter said his son would have celebrated his seventh anniversary in the Army next September.
He said James loved Kentucky, although he spent relatively little time here.
"He sure loved Kentucky, and Kentucky basketball. He was absolutely ecstatic about John Calipari. I wish he had gotten a chance to meet him."
"He loved being in the Army," Tom Hunter said. "He was only 25, but he was a very young and inspiring non-commissioned officer.
"He really wanted to help people. Even though a lot of people now don't think we're getting anywhere in Afghanistan, James was very positive about trying to help the people that are impoverished over there, and making a better life for them."