WALNUT CREEK, CA, USA
SPC, COMPANY B, 1ST SQUADRON, 8TH CAVALRY, FORT HOOD, TX
BALAD, IRAQ 04/04/2007
James J. Coon went to war as a way to better his life, hoping to use his soldier’s pay to one day buy a house.
Once in Iraq, he was recognized for his heroism after he jumped from his Humvee in an effort to save two fellow soldiers seriously injured in a roadside bomb explosion. Then, his family says, a sniper’s bullet took his life.
The 22-year-old Army specialist from the San Francisco Bay Area city of Walnut Creek was killed April 4 while on patrol in Balad, north of Baghdad.
The soldier’s father, Jim, described his son as an outgoing youth who loved hip-hop music and dancing, and excelled in football and darts. Coon had won a national steel-tip dart championship in 2001 and traveled to England as a 16-year-old to represent the United States. He finished fifth.
At 6 feet 6, with a size 14 1/2 shoe, Coon also was a punter on his high school and college football teams. His real love, his father said, was popping wheelies on his motorcycle.
“He was a good athlete as tall as he was,” his father said. “He could ride his motorcycle doing a wheelie from one county to the next, even using one hand.
“He was a happy-go-lucky and free-spirited kid without a care in the world. He made friends very easily. It was uncanny how easily he could do that.”
Pat Lickiss, principal of Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, said Coon was a “kid who always had a smile on his face. He was a really nice young man. And you can’t say that about all kids these days. But you can about James.”
Coon, who grew up in Walnut Creek, was practical about his future, his father said. He worked as a supermarket clerk and in a paint store and lawnmower shop. He figured that the military would be a good way to save enough money to buy his own home some day. He enlisted in September 2005, right after his 21st birthday, and spent six months in Iraq before he was killed.
Jim Coon said he kept in regular touch with his son through e-mails, which the young soldier used to express his growing frustration with the war effort. In one e-mail, the soldier wrote about fighting what he called an unseen enemy: “Dad, I feel like we’re fighting ghosts. There’s nobody out here to fight.”
Last month, Coon attempted a rescue near Baghdad. He was working as a gunner in the hatch of a Humvee on patrol when his unit was struck by a roadside bomb, his father said.
When several soldiers went to investigate, a second bomb detonated, wounding half a dozen men. “He heard them screaming for help, so James told his driver to hold his gun, and he went out, without cover, to help his fellow buddies,” his father said.
Coon was nominated for a Bronze Star but couldn’t understand the honor, his father said. “He said, ‘Dad, they’re calling me a hero, but all I did was what I thought was right. A lot of kids would have done the same thing.’ “
He said that he recently read an entry on his son’s MySpace.com website in which he wrote: “My dad is for sure my hero. He is also my best friend.” Said his father: “When I saw that, it tore me up.”
In addition to his father, Coon is survived by his stepmother, Marie Coon; two half sisters, Roxanna Coon and Samantha Lares; and his grandparents, Jack and Janet Stahl of Fairfield, Calif.