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Full Military Funeral For Navy Medic


Navy corpsman James Ray Layton, 22, of Riverbank was laid to rest at Burwood Cemetery south of Escalon on Thursday, Sept. 17 in a ceremony that drew full military honors and hundreds of mourners in civilian dress.

Layton died earlier this month in an ambush in a rugged valley in Afghanistan when he came under fire while tending to a wounded Marine who was also killed.

Raised in Riverbank, he graduated from Vista High School in Escalon and claimed family and friends in both communities, who turned out in force to line the roads and attend his funeral.

Escalating far beyond a family funeral, the gathering at Burwood became a community event and a chance to honor all those fighting for this country overseas in mourning a single fallen warrior.

Local emergency vehicles provided the escort for the hearse and limousines of family members bringing his body from Deegan Funeral Chapel in Escalon. As they did when his body was flown in to the Modesto airport on Tuesday, a full contingent of police, fire and ambulance personnel from Escalon were there, in addition to representatives from several other San Joaquin County communities. On Thursday morning, Escalon Fire Department members erected an American flag arch along McHenry Avenue, which the procession drove through, the large flag attached to a pair of ladder trucks and hoisted high above the roadway.

Members of the Patriot Guard veterans group also arrived on motorcycles and raised their flags as a color guard, joining the procession as it left Escalon, went down McHenry and then turned on River Road to head to the cemetery.

With Rear Admiral Donald Gintzig presiding over the ceremony, a contingent of white-uniformed Navy servicemen carried Layton's coffin to an open sided tent where a Navy chaplain conducted the traditional service.

Officers announced Layton had been awarded two Purple Hearts and presented them to his mother Nikki Freitas.

Marine riflemen fired a volley, a Navy officer pressed the folded flag from the coffin into his mother's hands, and a bugler sounded Taps. The crack of the rifles was startling and the mournful trumpet notes sounded loud and clear as the crowd grew silent at the climax of the service. A vintage plane also buzzed the proceedings following the playing of Taps, sending out a plume of white smoke behind it as it lifted off into the clear, cloudless blue sky.

Off to one side, three Native American Indians burned sage and with a feather waved the fragrant smoke over the coffin and mourners before the start of the Christian service. Layton's father Brent is Cherokee Indian.

Following the funeral, mourners gathered at the Escalon Community Center to share stories and memories of the fallen soldier, including watching a video presentation that featured pictures of James Layton as a baby, as a young boy muscling up for the camera, as a young man celebrating his high school graduation and as a soldier, giving the 'thumbs up' sign with his buddies ...those he died fighting to protect.