Saturday, December 06, 2008

Green Beret James Alford is buried with full honors

Green Beret James Alford is buried with full honors

By Steve Bandy, News Messenger

Friday, December 05, 2008

KARNACK - Once stripped of his Special Forces patch and seemingly headed for a dishonorable discharge, Staff Sgt. James "Jamie" Alford was laid to rest with full military honors here Friday.

More than 20 Green Berets from his old unit at Fort Campbell, Ky., were on hand to mark his passing.

Alford, 30, died Monday, six years after doctors told him he had only a few months to live.

Alford enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 1996 at the age of 17 and, upon completion of Basic, Infantry and Airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. There he completed Special Forces training in just two years and received his Green Beret.

He transferred to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Campbell and was deployed to numerous countries. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan.

Then his behavior began to change. There were disappearances. In April 2003 the Army sent him home from Iraq. He returned to Fort Campbell and a month later was back in Karnack.

"They did preliminary tests to find out what was wrong before he came home," said John Alford, the soldier's father. "They were pretty sure, but we had a brain biopsy done to make sure."

With the result of the biopsy, James Alford was diagnosed in June 2003 with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and fatal brain disorder that leads to progressive dementia and neuromuscular deficits.

As soon as the diagnosis was verified, the Army immediately restored the soldier's rank and pay.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 90 percent of people who contract CJD die within a year.

"They don't know how he managed to last so long," the senior Alford said.

"He was somewhat coherent about a year and a half after he returned, even after he quit walking and talking," said Gail Alford, his mother, also an Army veteran. "He would respond to questions with his eyes and he would laugh."

"He was a tough little soldier," his father, an Army veteran, added.

The Alfords had James' body sent to the CJD Foundation for an autopsy following his death.

"They're trying to find out why he lived so long," said John Alford. "We certainly want to help any way we can."

Many of the Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) were in town prior to Friday's services. They "stood guard" during visitation at Down's Funeral Home.

"They're soldiers. They protected him and took care of him," the senior Alford explained.

Hundreds turned out for the young soldier's funeral Friday at Downs Funeral Home in Marshall.

The Rev. Jerry Jones and the Rev. Judd Strawbridge presided over the ceremony, but it was the Rev. Mike Edwards, chaplain of Chapter 31 of the Special Forces Association, who moved the attendees.

Edwards told how he and his wife Linda, upon reading of James Alford's plight in a Dallas newspaper, took the next day off at work and drove to Karnack to meet him and his family.

He told how the younger Alford, though bedridden, was able to communicate with body language and how he could see in his eyes that he wanted to return the Special Forces salute Edwards gave as he was departing.

Green Berets served as pallbearers and honor guard for the services, carrying the coffin with their fallen comrade's remains from the funeral home to the waiting hearse, then from the hearse to its final resting place at Yates Cemetery in Scottsville.

A group of about 20 Patriot Guard Riders stood outside the funeral home during the services, each holding a large American flag. The motorcyclists also led the mile-long procession to the cemetery and, with their flags, formed a perimeter around the grave site.

At the grave, a portable stereo played "Ballad of the Green Berets," a patriot song co-written by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, himself a Green Beret who was wounded in Vietnam.

Following the song was the traditional 21-gun salute and the sounding of "Taps" by a Green Beret bugler from Fort Hood. The bugler from Staff Sgt. Alford's home unit was deployed, according to his father.

After the flag that had draped Alford's coffin was presented to his mother, U.S. Rep Louis Gohmert presented three flags that had flown over the U.S. Capitol to each of the soldier's siblings.

Noting that the presentation of the coffin-drape flag traditionally begins with the words, "On behalf of a grateful nation ..." Gohmert acknowledged that "the country didn't do right by James initially," referring to his unceremonious discharge from the service.

"It was my honor, and my office's honor, to help fight to have him reinstated," Gohmert said.

Don Nix, representing the Patriot Guard Riders, also made a presentation to Ms. Alford on behalf of that organization.

During his service with the Green Berets, Staff Sgt. Alford was deployed to numerous foreign countries, including Oman, Jordan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom, and to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan, Alford also was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his peace-time service, along with the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Infantry Badge, War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the War on Terrorism Service Medal.