ARLINGTON, Va. – By all accounts, Army Spc. Jason Ford was more of a fun-loving comedian than a warrior.
But Ford, the eighth Maryland soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, got a warrior’s send-off Tuesday on a bright, brisk afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery.
Friends and family of the Bowie resident followed his casket as six soldiers in crisp dress uniforms carried it from the white hearse to a grave surrounded by the endless rows of white tombstones at Arlington.
The air cracked three times as seven guns fired in salute. A bugler played “Taps.” Ford was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, which were presented to his family.
Soldiers, struggling with the wind, folded the flag from Ford’s coffin into a neat triangle and handed it to his mother, Florence Newell of Washington, D.C. They handed flags to his father, Joseph Ford of Temple Hills, and his sister, Yolanda Smith-McRae of Bowie.
The mourners then left Arlington and drove to Paramount Baptist Church in Southeast Washington to remember the man who was killed March 13 in Tikrit, when the Humvee he was riding in was demolished by a roadside bomb. Capt. John Kurth of Wisconsin was also killed in the blast.
As they ate, the group at the church remembered Ford as a religious man who loved to crack jokes, play the drums and piano and sing his favorite song, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”
“His character did not fit what he did,” his father said of Ford’s time in the Army. “He was too much of a gentle individual.”
Childhood friends talked about how they played football, baseball and basketball with Ford when they were growing up.
“He was a comedian. A real funster,” said Kevin Graham of Bladensburg.
Although Ford did not graduate from high school, he earned his GED through the Job Corps, then joined the Army in 2002 as a way to get ahead, said his brother-in-law James McRae III. Ford lived with McRae in Bowie before leaving for the military.
“He wanted to do something positive for himself. It was a way for him to better himself in life,” McRae said.
Ford was based in Schweinfurt, Germany, where he was a member of the 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment.
“He was the type of person that, no matter how mad you were, he would make you smile,” said Staff Sgt. Shawn Jackson, who served with Ford in Germany, and returned with the body for the funeral.
Ford called his family once every two weeks from Germany, and then from Iraq. He had been in Iraq for one week when he was killed, and his unit had taken over security in Tikrit just that day.
Ford’s family is “up and down” as they work through their grief, McRae said.
“They laugh, and then when the laughs end, the cries come,” he said.
All they have now are photographs and videos. But Ford’s cousin Tarita Ford-Rogers said the family’s Baptist faith is helping them cope with the loss.
“He (Ford) was a soldier for the U.S. Army. Now he is a soldier for God’s army. He won his battle here on Earth,” she said.
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