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James R Layton


U.S. Navy



Navy hospital corpsman James Layton headed out before dawn with U.S. and Afghan forces on an assignment to a remote village in eastern Afghanistan.

Their mission was to meet the village elders of Ganjgal in Kunar province and work to establish the Afghan government’s authority in the mountains near the Pakistani border, a largely Taliban-controlled tribal region through which fighters and weapons are smuggled.

The troops walked into the valley leading to the village, which is bounded on three sides by mountains. As daylight broke, they heard shots.

It was a trap.

From the slopes of the mountains, gunfire and grenades rained on about 80 Afghan soldiers and a dozen U.S. troops. They took cover and radioed for help, but helicopter support would not arrive for 80 minutes.

At one point, a Marine, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, was struck by gunfire. Layton, 22, rushed from his sheltered position with his first aid kit to help the wounded man.

“James had left his cover to go help Mike,” said his father, Brent Layton. “He was killed trying to save Mike.” Johnson also died in the attack.

The corpsman’s aunt, Kym Layton, said she had always “thought James to be the kind of kid to do the right thing.”

She added: “We never know how far we would go for someone else, and he went all the way.”

Layton’s body was found slumped over Johnson’s. Bandage wrappings were scattered around their bodies, according to Jonathan Landay, a McClatchy Newspapers reporter who was embedded with the attacked unit.

“This guy died a hero,” said Cpl. Dakota Meyer, the Marine who retrieved Layton’s body.

Layton was born in Livermore in Northern California and grew up in Riverbank and Escalon, towns about 10 miles north of Modesto.

He was the eldest son of Brent Layton and Carlta Freitas. He helped with his siblings and began working as a teenager, first cleaning RVs, then picking up jobs at a pizzeria and other restaurants, sometimes walking two or three miles to get there. “If James was going to do something, you knew he’d do it,” his father said.

He also loved playing the guitar and dreamed of opening a music studio.


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