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Touching tribute
Flag presented to parents of slain soldier

SNELLVILLE - Half time at Shiloh High School was completely silent Friday evening.

And for good reason.

The memory of 2002 Shiloh graduate Cpl. Jon Ayers, 24, one of nine soldiers killed in July in an insurgent raid that penetrated an American outpost in eastern Afghanistan, was honored in a near flawless ceremony by Shiloh's Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps cadets at Charlie Jordan Field.

"Not only do we have great football at Shiloh, but we also have great heroes," press box announcer Pete Mattix said to the hushed crowd.

Six cadets, who drilled for the 15-minute ceremony for two weeks, delivered a spine-tingling performance which culminated in Ayers' parents, Bill and Suzanne, receiving the American flag on behalf of a grateful nation.

As a bagpiper played the maudlin "Amazing Grace," those in attendance watched as three cadets meticulously unfolded and refolded the flag as another cadet explained the larger meaning.

The bookends, interdependent, were apt. The first fold, a symbol of life. The last fold, with the stars facing skyward, a symbol of the nation's motto: "In God We Trust."

"It was phenomenal," said Brady Rowe, 24, Ayers' best friend who joined his fallen friend's family. "I've honestly seen actual military honor guards do it worse. It would have been a big thing to him; it was a big thing to me.

"It was something else, it was something else."

Ayers, who participated in JROTC all four years at Shiloh before joining the Army, was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan when he was killed before dawn July 13 by small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades, the Associated Press reported. It was the deadliest incident for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 American soldiers were killed as a rocket-propelled grenade shot down a helicopter.

Ayers was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy.

Master Sgt. Demetris Cook, who assists with Shiloh's JROTC program, said bestowing a flag to Ayers' family is one of the nation's highest honors.

"We just felt it was something we had to do," he said. "He made the ultimate sacrifice."