UPDATE: Visitation for fallen eastern Kentucky soldier

By: Eric Eckstrom Email
By: Eric Eckstrom Email
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PAINTSVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - Update: 2/28/2014:

Family members and a community began saying goodbye to one of their own. Johnson County soldier Joshua Gray served overseas for about one month when officials say he died in a non-combat incident in Afghanistan. On Friday, his visitation was held at Johnson County Middle School.

“It’s everybody; everybody lost a son. I mean what else can you say, it's terrible,” says Danny Valentine of the Patriot Guard Riders.

That lost son was Private First Class Joshua Gray, a 21-year-old soldier who died earlier this month in Afghanistan. On Friday, community members gathered at Johnson County Middle School for Gray's Visitation to honor and to mourn his passing.

“Well, we were all just deeply saddened. Of course, it kind of hits closer to home when it's someone of your own child's age, and same class and things along those lines,” says Tom Salyer of Johnson County Schools.

Smart; funny; eccentric; talented. All titles those who knew Gray in life say he personified.

“He was so smart, and could do anything with his life, and it’s just really hard to see so much potential leave this world so young,” says Mariah Adkins, one of Joshua’s former classmates.

And while his passing is difficult, the folks who knew him well say Gray should be remembered his tenacious and vibrant spirit, which they believe will live on.

“Just to give your all for a thing like Josh did. Whether it was academics, whether it was school, or whether it's for your country,” Salyer said.

“He was voted most unforgettable of our class, so yeah, it's hard to forget him,” Adkins said.

And if the hundreds who came to this Visitation is any indication, that unforgettable quality of Private First Class Joshua Gray seems well intact.

The funeral for Joshua Gray will be held tomorrow at 11, also at the Middle School. Burial will follow at Highlands Memorial Park.

Update 2-24-2014:

The body of a Johnson County soldier who died in Afghanistan returned home to the mountains Monday. Private First Class Joshua Gray had served overseas for about one month when officials say he died in a non combat incident at Bagram Airfield.

Loved ones of 21-yea- old, Josh Gray, gathered to welcome their soldier home at Big Sandy Regional Airport along with men and women from throughout the state who make up the Patriot Guard. Danny Valentine with the guard says, “Anything we can do to help the family, that’s our project.”

Several flags in Johnson County fly at half staff while the community honors the 2011 graduate of Johnson Central as he completes his journey home

A classmate of Gray’s, B.J. Blackburn says, “It was just a couple years ago we graduated together and he was just a great guy and it just don't seem right that he is gone.”

Now, as his family prepares to bury their hero, some veterans say it is their duty to honor him.

An emotional Danny Valentine says, “These guys do the ultimate... but I was an old Vietnam vet and we were treated pretty poorly…I'm sorry....we just try to make sure it don't happen again.”

A task they perform with pride for the men and women who defend our country. Valentine says, “It’s just an honor...that’s all you can say...it is an honor. We are here to do this last thing.”

Visitation for Gray will be held on Friday evening from 5 until 9 in the gym at Johnson Central Middle School. The funeral service is set for Saturday at 11, also at the middle school. Burial will follow at Highlands Memorial Park.

Original Story 2-11-2014:

An Eastern Kentucky soldier is dead after serving in Afghanistan. Private First Class Joshua Gray died Monday at Bagram Airfield as the result of a non-combat related incident that remains under investigation. The 21-year-old was deployed in January and served as a satellite communications system operator maintainer.

Gray was a 2011 graduate of Johnson Central High School. Friends say he was very involved....a member of the academic team, Skills USA team, prom king, and voted 'Most Unforgettable' by his senior class.

"This is such a loss of such a super kid....he is still my kid you know he maybe a young man now but he is still my kid," says Brenda Porter.

Porter, the Johnson Central Academic Team coach, says Gray was a brilliant mind, but that's not all he was...he was compassionate, tutoring classmates like BJ Blackburn.

Blackburn says, "That kind of shows you what kind of guy he was and then to go on and risk his life for his country...to risk anything for anybody, that's the kind of guy he was."

"There is not a single word you could be like Josh was this...because he was just so much more," says Porter

With a bright future ahead of him, Gray chose to serve his country in the U.S. Army.

Porter says, "When I found out he was in the service I was very proud that he had chosen to do that but very scared, too." She adds, "He was in communications and I'm certain it was with computers because that's what he did and that what he loved."

"He could have done anything with his life he was one of the most brilliant people I've ever met and that is what he chose to do and give his life. That is why he is so unforgettable," explains former classmate, Lindsey Patrick.

His classmates say he was a friend to everyone and was known for his penguin 'Waddles' that went everywhere with him.

Blackburn says, "He was just Josh. He didn't try to be anybody else and everyone fell in love with that."

"When you first think of Josh, you think of the intellectual side...not the army serviceman. Then your reaction is, how can such a mind be gone?"

Porter says she knows what the always inquisitive Gray would tell her now that he is not coming home, "I think if you analyze the situation, Mrs. Porter, you'll come to a good conclusion...he was always telling me that."

The one conclusion they all can come up with is that he died a hero.

Funeral arrangements for Gray have not been set.

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