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City Presents Plaque To Layton's Family
Former resident Petty Officer 3rd Class James Layton, who died during combat in Afghanistan in September, was honored in a special ceremony when Riverbank lit its community Christmas tree on Thursday, Dec. 10.

Serving his country as a Navy Corpsman, Layton was killed by gunfire while giving medical aid to a wounded fellow soldier on the field of battle. He was the first serviceman from this area to die in the Afghanistan or Iraq wars and received full military honors and widespread news media coverage during his burial at Burwood Cemetery on River Road.

On Thursday evening, City Manager Rich Holmer presented the family with a bronze plaque for Layton that the city will add to those commemorating local servicemen killed in past wars that already stand on the veterans' wall outside the Community Center.

Led by his father Brent Layton and mother Nikki Freitas, numerous members of his family including babies in arms, attended for the special tribute from city officials and local veterans.

In a ceremony that proved emotionally moving despite the cold and dark, Freitas choked back tears and stepped down after managing only a couple of sentences about her son. Dad Brent Layton, taking over the microphone, talked about his son's childhood days but he, too, choked up and stopped abruptly.

Former local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Allen Trawick and two other vet representatives hurried to embrace Layton family members as the ceremony closed.

Brent Layton, noting he is a former law enforcement officer, said he once had to interrogate James about the disappearance of $100 from a family savings jar at the same time an expensive watch appeared on James' wrist. He came away convinced James had not taken the money but was proved wrong when his wife took over the questioning and James confessed.

However, his father said, there was never any doubt, "my son had heart. When his fellow soldier was shot, he ran towards the gunfire, not away. He wanted to help and he did."

The wording on the plaque, said Holmer, simply commemorates James Ray Layton as a Petty Officer 3rd Class who was killed on Sept. 8 of 2009 during the war in Afghanistan.

He noted the last plaque placed outside the Community Center to mark the death of a local serviceman in combat is dated Jan. 17 of 1968 - more than 40 years ago.