Pence salutes fellow Columbus native’s sacrifice

The father and mother of U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter of Columbus watched as the body of their son arrived in the United States on Friday, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence at Dover Air Force Base.

Sgt. Hunter, 23, was killed Wednesday in an attack on a NATO convoy near the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar. Hunter, a 2011 graduate of Columbus East High School, was just 32 days into his first deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed. He was the son of Mark C. Hunter of Columbus and Kimberly Thompson of Nashville, Indiana.

Sgt. Hunter and Army Specialist Christopher M. Harris of Jackson Springs, North Carolina, had served with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. They were part of an international force referred to as the Train, Advise and Assist Command south. The Army soldiers both died in a suicide bombing, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.

The parents of Sgt. Hunter were notified of his death in visits to their Indiana homes by members of the National Guard on Wednesday night.

Mike Pence, a native of Columbus and the former Indiana governor, held his hand over his heart as the Army carry team Friday afternoon moved the transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. Hunter at the Air Force base in Delaware.

Among others participating were Gen. James McConville, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army; Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Green; Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy; Maj. Gen. Michael Kurilla; and Army Sgt. Maj. Dan Dailey.

Afterward, the White House released the following statement by Vice President Pence:

“Karen and I join the Columbus community and every American in honoring the service and mourning the passing of a courageous American, Sergeant Jonathon Hunter. Sgt. Hunter was a proud Hoosier and an American hero — and his legacy will ever be enshrined in our hearts. Our prayers will be with Sgt. Hunter’s wife Whitney, his parents, his brother Marcus, and all of his loved ones and friends.”

Mark Hunter flew to Philadelphia on Friday morning to participate in the dignified transfer. Upon his arrival, Army personnel drove him and accompanying family members 70 miles south along the Delaware River to the Air Force base, Hunter said.

Kimberly Thompson and her husband, Brian Thompson of Nashville, Indiana, also flew to the East Coast on Friday to participate.

After meeting with military officials and counselors at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Sgt. Hunter’s family members were placed on a bus and driven to the flight line to await the plane, Mark Hunter said.

There was a brief delay in the arrival of the aircraft, which touched down shortly after 2:30 p.m., Mark Hunter said.

There was no immediate word on how long the body of Sgt. Hunter would remain at the Air Force base before it would be transported to Columbus for local services, Mark Hunter said Friday afternoon.

Sgt. Hunter’s family said they hope that the soldier’s body can be flown from Dover to the Columbus Municipal Airport, said Mark Hunter, who was expected to return to his Columbus home Friday night.

A Hunter family reunion that had long been scheduled for this weekend will be conducted in his son’s honor, he said.

The family is working with Columbus East High School as a possible location for a memorial service, but no date for the service has been set yet, East Principal Mark Newell said.

The Columbus community, along with people nationwide, are pledging support the widows of the two soldiers through social-media fundraising accounts seeking to generate $50,000 each.

As of mid-afternoon Friday, the Hunter GoFundMe effort had raised $16,662 with donations from 321 people. The effort for Harris’ widow, who is pregnant, had raised $41,025 provided by 883 donors.

In a Thursday night statement to the media, the Hunter family stated that Jonathon Hunter comes from an exceedingly long history of committed and loyal family members – men and women – who have fought in the military since the Revolutionary War.

“I know Jonathon would want us to get rid of the hate and division in this world, and that’s why he did his part to make peace,” a portion of the statement read.

With a strong interest in family history, Hunter was touched by how his great-great-great-great uncle had made a difference in this country and he wanted to do the same with his military service, the statement said.

That ancestor was John Anthony Copeland Jr. (1834-59), a college-educated free African-American living in Ohio, who joined abolitionist and insurrectionist John Brown’s three-day raid on a U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, in October 1859.

After being convicted of murder and conspiracy to incite slaves to rebellion, Copeland was hanged Dec. 16, 1859 — two weeks after Brown was sent to the gallows.

On his way to be executed, Copeland reportedly said, “If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause. I had rather die than be a slave.”

Another parent’s perspective

Seven years ago, Columbus resident Deb Kleinschmidt, stood on the Dover Air Force Base tarmac as the body of her son, Marine Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, was brought back from Afghanistan.

McQueary, 27, was killed Feb. 18, 2010, in the explosion of an improvised explosive device, known as an IED, while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. It was his third combat tour.

“The hardest part is watching the (transfer cases) come off,” said Kleinschmidt, who remembers hearing the grieving father of a fallen Pennsylvania soldier cry out in agony when he first saw the transfer case.

While she didn’t cry herself, the grief began to manifest itself in other ways, Kleinschmidt said. She felt she could no longer walk, which prompted the military to bring in a wheelchair, she said.

Despite the emotional toll, Kleinschmidt said she appreciated how the transfer case is gently, precisely and respectfully moved from the plane to a mortuary transport vehicle.

It took 12 days it took for McQueary’s body to be sent home, Kleinschmidt said.

For Kleinschmidt, the death of Jonathon Hunter is emotionally draining on a number of different levels, she said.

By coincidence, she was living two doors down from Jonathon Hunter’s mother, Kimberly Thompson, in the Windsor Place subdivision in 2010.

It was during a neighbor-to-neighbor chat that Thompson told Kleinschmidt that her husband, Brian Thompson, had tragically lost his 10-year-old nephew, Logan M. Thompson. The Richards Elementary fourth-grader was a member of the Columbus Young Marines organization.

“I just can’t believe this family has to suffer like that again,” Kleinschmidt said.

“During a celebration of life for my son, it felt like I wasn’t even there,” Kleinschmidt said. “It was just a blur.”

While some who want to pay respects to the grieving family may struggle with expressing themselves, Kleinschmidt advises a simple approach.

“You just put your arms around them, hug them, say you are sorry this happened, and keep them in your prayers,” she said.

“When we brought Jeremy back, there were so many along the route, and that meant a lot to us to know we weren’t grieving alone,” she said.

Assistant Managing Editor Julie McClure contributed to this report.

How to help

For more information on how to help the families of U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter and Army Spec. Chris Harris, visit:

Flag tribute

American flags will not be lowered to half mast in honor of Columbus native Sgt. Jonathon Hunter until the day of his funeral.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office said Friday that officials are following state protocol and will order all flags at half mast the day of Hunter’s funeral, which has not yet been set.

When a flag is flown at half-staff, it is first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to a half-staff position, according to flag etiquette rules provided by the city of Columbus.

Only the president of the United States or the governor of a the state has the power to order flags to be flown at half-staff — local municipalities are not allowed to lower flags without an order from the state or federal government, the rules state.

Sgt. Jonathan Hunter

Who: Jonathon Michael Hunter

What: Sergeant in the U.S. Army

Age: Born Oct. 10, 1993; died Aug. 2, 2017 at age 23.

Hometown: Columbus

School: 2011 graduate of Columbus East High School. Played both running back and defensive end for the East football team.

Military service: Joined Army April 8, 2014; served with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborn Division stationed in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina

Family: Wife, Whitney Michelle Hunter; father, Mark Hunter; mother, Kimberly Thompson; stepfather, Brian Thompson; brother, Marcus Hunter; sisters Lindsey England, Kelsey Thompson; brother-in-law, Andy England; niece, Bailey England; nephew, Jordan Burton.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.