A year has passed since gunshots in Iraq pierced the heart of a
local family and brought home the reality of a distant war.
Gilroy – A year has passed since gunshots in Iraq pierced the heart of a local family and brought home the reality of a distant war.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeramy Ailes, the first Gilroyan to die in combat since Vietnam, would have turned 23 Thursday. The young man was killed in an ambush on Nov. 15, 2004, at the end of a week-long campaign to root out insurgents in Fallujah.
Known among friends and family as a prankster with a big heart, Ailes brought laughter to his brothers in arms and courage to the battlefield. This summer, the young men who fought beside Ailes – a member of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Platoon – visited the family’s home and shared stories of how the Marine led the pack in practical jokes, and in combat. Ailes, who was in charge of a four-man squad that conducted house to house searches in Fallujah, always took the lead in the face of danger. He also showed kindness to children in a war-torn country, requesting soccer balls and other gifts from home to distribute to kids in Iraq.
The loss of the beloved young man inspired an outpouring of support from thousands in Gilroy and beyond, with letters pouring in from around the world from friends, fellow military personnel and other supporters. Thousands of residents thronged First Street last November to pay respect during the funeral procession to Ailes’ final resting place in Gavilan Hills Memorial Park. In the days since, a steady stream of faithful mourners have continued to stop by the young man’s grave.
Among them is the Marine’s father, Joel Ailes, who said he visits his son nearly every day.
“It’s been tough. There are good days and bad days. You just never know when you’ll see something that’s going to remind you of him,” Ailes said.
The last year has passed by in a flash, he said, with a good portion of the family’s time spent on efforts memorializing their son and brother. In addition to his father, Ailes left behind his mother, Lana, and three younger sisters.
In recent months, the family has helped recount the young man’s life as part of a video honoring seven Bay Area residents who lost their lives fighting in Iraq. The film will show next week in a San Jose theater following the city’s Veteran’s Day parade.
The family also continues to correspond with members of Ailes’ platoon, now on its third tour of duty in Iraq. They follow the news about the insurgency and politics surrounding the war, including the recent passage of a constitution by Iraqis.
“In our minds it’s good that he didn’t die for naught,” Joel Ailes said. “If we would have pulled out of there a year ago, then it would have felt like ‘Well why?’ The country would have been in shambles. At least we’re sticking to our guns and hopefully we’ll get them on their feet to where our boys can come home.”
While the family keeps a watchful eye on the war and Ailes’ comrades, a local Marine mom has begun raising support for a scholarship fund in honor of the fallen Marine.
Karen Humber, a special education teacher at Luigi Aprea Elementary School, created 2,000 buttons bearing the image of Ailes. She plans to distribute the buttons to local agencies and organizations to help raise money for the scholarship fund.
Humber’s 19-year-old son joined the Marines a week before Ailes died in combat. She said that in the last year she has grown close to Ailes’ mother, Lana, and “just felt that as a Marine mom, I had to make sure the community didn’t forget.”
Humber also has helped organize local efforts to support troops who continue to fight in Iraq. As a member of the nonprofit group Operation Interdependence, Humber and others in the community gather once a month to assemble care packages for shipment overseas. Each package includes an assortment of snacks and toiletries, as well as a handwritten note wishing the soldier well.
In coming days, hundreds of students at Morgan Hill’s Barrett Elementary School, where Lana Ailes has worked for several years, will assemble care packages in honor of the fallen soldier, according to Humber. Last year, the same students sang “God Bless America” and tied a sea of red ribbons to the school’s fence during a morning ceremony in honor of the Marine.
As the anniversary of the young man’s sacrifice approaches, it appears unlikely that the memory of Ailes’ life will soon fade.
“I don’t have any fears about that,” Joel Ailes said. “They say time heals all wounds. But it will be a long time before I forget.”
Residents can get buttons commemorating Jeramy Ailes by calling Karen Humber at
846-2630; they can contribute to a fund in the Marine’s honor by sending checks to:
Jeramy Ailes Memorial Scholarship Fund
P.O. Box 464
Gilroy, CA 95021
Operation Interdependence is looking for
additional volunteers. To learn more, visit www.oidelivers.org or call contact Karen Humber at 848-2630.