Staff Sgt. James Patrick Hunter was laid to rest Tuesday, as he had wished, among veterans of other wars at The Lexington Cemetery.
Hunter, 25, a Lexington native, was killed June 18 while on a foot patrol in the Zhari District of Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was serving with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. Hunter, who was part of a public-affairs unit, was caught in a blast from a homemade bomb.
He had arrived in Afghanistan less than a month earlier, having served two previous tours in Iraq. He joined the Army in 2003 after graduating from Firelands High School in Oberlin, Ohio.
During funeral services Tuesday morning at Winchester's First United Methodist Church, the Rev. James Williams remembered Hunter as "a soldier's soldier" who loved his country and dedicated his life to serving others, rather than pursuing material gain.
"This was a young man who did not give his life to the pursuit of wealth and pleasure," Williams said. "He forfeited college to serve his country."
Hundreds, including family, friends and numerous military members, almost filled the sanctuary. Outside, more than 100 members of the Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group, formed a cordon around the church, each cyclist holding an American flag. Cyclists from Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia took part.
Across the street, dozens of people from other Winchester churches maintained a prayer vigil that began more than an hour before the funeral.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Richardson, representing the Army at the funeral, called Hunter "an American hero" and read from the written comments of soldiers who had served with Hunter in Afghanistan.
"I am grateful to have met the man. ... I will never forget his sacrifice," Hunter's company commander wrote.
Richardson said Hunter was a likeable, easygoing man who took deep pride in his work in public affairs and labored hard to do the best job possible. At one point, Hunter — though only a sergeant — ran his brigade's public affairs office for several months because no commissioned officer was available to handle the job, Richardson said.
"He loved to tell the soldiers' stories," another soldier wrote.
In his public affairs role, Hunter often worked with U.S. news reporters covering the Afghan war. One of them was ABC-TV's Mike Gudgell, who recently posted an online comment about Hunter on a news account of his death in The Morning Journal, a Lorain, Ohio, newspaper.
"He was more than a great soldier," Gudgell wrote of Hunter. "He was a leader of men. He had an enormously important responsibility to see that not only soldiers' families knew about the lives of their soldiers, but also to help the American public understand the life of a soldier in war time. ... He's my colleague in every sense."
Richardson, noting the approach of Independence Day, urged those at the funeral to remember Hunter when they hear the national anthem during the holiday.
"He is truly one of the brave," Richardson said.
Hunter was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Saying goodbye to Hunter involved communities in two states.
There were ceremonies late last week in northern Ohio, where Hunter grew up. He was born in Lexington in 1985. Hunter's body was returned to Kentucky on Saturday.
In his comments Tuesday, Williams called Hunter's death a "tragedy that ended a full and wonderful life," and he urged those present to follow Hunter's lead in their own lives.
"Go forward with your lives and make a difference," he said. "We have a great example before us."
From the Winchester church, Hunter's flag-draped coffin traveled to Lexington by police motorcade. At the cemetery entrance, the coffin was transferred to a horse-drawn caisson, which carried it to the grave site.
There, while a mocking bird sang from a distant tree, family and friends said their final goodbyes to Staff Sgt. James Hunter.
Survivors include Hunter's father, Tom Hunter of Winchester; his mother, Patricia Phillips of Birmingham, Ohio; his fiancée, Candice Clark; four brothers; a sister and a half-sister; and two stepbrothers.