IRAQ WAR CASUALTIES

Two Airmen Killed in Action Share a Headstone at Arlington

The remains of Tech. Sgt. Jason L. Norton and Staff Sgt. Brian McElroy were placed in the same coffin and buried at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. The two were killed by an explosion Jan. 22 near Taji, Iraq.
The remains of Tech. Sgt. Jason L. Norton and Staff Sgt. Brian McElroy were placed in the same coffin and buried at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. The two were killed by an explosion Jan. 22 near Taji, Iraq. (Photos By Dayna Smith -- The Washington Post)

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By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Tech. Sgt. Jason L. Norton and Staff Sgt. Brian McElroy found joy in their families. As airmen stationed in Alaska, both enjoyed the great outdoors.

And earlier this year, the two men died together.

Norton, 32, and McElroy, 28, were killed Jan. 22 when their Humvee struck an explosive device during convoy escort duties in Taji, Iraq.

Yesterday, dozens of mourners gathered for a joint memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery. A long line of cars followed the hearse to the grave site. A firing party fired a three-volley salute, and a bugler played taps over the sound of roaring planes.

Norton and McElroy shared the same coffin and headstone because their remains were unidentifiable, according to an Arlington Cemetery spokeswoman. They were the 240th and 241st people killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington.

The airmen were assigned to the 3rd Security Forces Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. Soldiers in their tightly knit squadron said they became close during training before deploying to Iraq last year.

"The squadron was so torn up when they died," said Capt. Kelley Jeter, a base spokeswoman. At a joint service for the airmen Jan. 27 in Elmendorf, mourners filled a chapel and adjoining annex to capacity. The ceremony was broadcast on a live video feed. "They were very popular guys," Jeter said.

Norton grew up in Miami, Okla., and joined the Air Force in 1992. At Elmendorf, he was a dog handler and trained a pack of 10 military dogs for attack work and bomb sniffing.

Superiors and subordinates called Norton a dedicated professional; he was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart posthumously. "I've heard several leaders say that whenever they needed something done, he was their go-to man," said Tech Sgt. Joel Ewing, who was in Norton's unit.

Norton spent his weekends watching NASCAR races, camping, hunting and fishing with buddies in the Alaskan outback. Friends called him a consummate outdoorsman. But "first, more than anything, he was a father," Ewing said. "His family was everything."

Norton had two children, Rebecca 8, and Dalton, 7. McElroy, of San Antonio, had a 4-year-old daughter, Kaley.

Norton's wife, Cristina, was given an American flag at the service, as was McElroy's widow, Aymber. McElroy also received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

McElroy joined the Air Force in 1998 and recently became a noncommissioned officer in charge of information security for classified systems at Elmendorf, according to news reports.

"There's these few individuals that come along where you give them a job, a detail or a duty, and they reach around and totally grasp it and take it to levels you never expected them to," Chief Master Sgt. William Watson told the San Antonio Express-News. "He's that type of guy."

Sgt. Francisco Alcocer described McElroy as personable and outgoing. From the moment they met in 2004, the two became fast friends, he said.

"I was always over at his place," barbecuing, fishing or playing cards," Alcocer said. McElroy's penchant for jokes made him a favorite partner on Spades night. He frequently teased the other players, making them misplay their cards.

After McElroy was killed, Alcocer flew to Philadelphia to pick up his remains. "He was truly a family man and a best friend," he said. "He's missed greatly."


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