Into The Light: Jonn Lilyea

There are times one knows one must write something, but you hope that such need not be done for years.  You know the day is coming, but hope against hope it need not be today.  However…

What can one say about a man who was, as Hondo notes, a man of honor and courage?  Who faced challenges from the battlefield to the health problems that came from his service with both fortitude and humor?  Who, at considerable personal expense, supported his fellow troops of all services and veterans?  TSO has done an amazing job of it, yet, there is so much more that can be said.

Given the antics of his own cats, I suspect that Jonn would get a chuckle out of the fact that my landlord’s cat is grabbing my arm as I write this, demanding love.  A chuckle that might turn into a smile as the cat runs away when I try to give her a skritch for him.

I honestly can’t remember when I first met Jonn, but I remember well the first night I had the honor of sitting in his home smoking cigars, enjoying fine aged Panamanian rum, and solving the problems of the world.  That rum was a favorite of his, and is now a favorite of mine.  It was a night of bonding, and discovering a friend who was one of those rare types that you feel you’ve been friends forever.

Over the years, I was one of many who benefited from his sage, sometimes gruff, advice.  And, the occasional swift kick in the ass given as only a first sergeant can give.  He was always there, not just for me, but for many.  If you served, or were serving, he had your back.  I suspect strongly that in the final tally he literally helped thousands indirectly through his writing and works, and more than can be counted directly.

He loathed poseurs, and spent time and money exposing them.  It is worth noting that some he did not go after in public, dealing with them in private.  It is also worth noting that if they came clean, he offered advice and encouragement to them.  Those that didn’t, well…  When I joined the Indiana Guard Reserve (state guard, not national) one of the first things I did was to tell him, both to share the news and to let him know that if he saw a photo of me in uniform that I had not gone off the reservation.  He gave me some much needed advice (‘he’s an asshole here’s what you do’) more than once.

Jonn was gruff, crusty, and had a soft center that could even be gooey.  He didn’t like to talk about his own problems, but was always there for so many to hear of life’s challenges and triumphs.  His loss is a loss for the Republic and especially for his family and friends.  Like TSO, I ask that if you are religious, please say a prayer for his family and friends.  If you serve, or have honorably served, raise a toast to him.

I toasted him last night, and this morning raise my coffee mug to him remembering the last time I saw him.  I had gone by his place for a visit, and Jonn insisted — as only he could — that I spend the night instead of pressing on with my journey.  He equally insisted that I stay for breakfast, though the morning was too cold for us to smoke a cigar on the porch as planned.  His loss has brought tears to my eyes, and smiles and laughter at some of the memories — he would approve of the latter.

He was a man of battlesteel-clad honor and integrity, and we are the richer for him and having known him.  For all that his death leaves a void in many lives, I give thanks that I knew him and echo Patton in saying “Thank God that such a man lived.”

Godspeed Jonn.

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