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Zephyrhills solider wounded by IED blast in Afghanistan dies

Army Spec. Jonathan C. O'Neill had only three weeks left in Afghanistan. He was heading home, but still mulling over what to do next.

"Deployments almost over and wondering what to do next," he wrote on his Facebook profile page. "Do I stay at Ft. Stewart or ask to go to Korea? hmm."

On June 2, the 22-year-old graduate of Zephyrhills High School was badly burned when a roadside bomb blew up near his vehicle. He died Monday at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

O'Neill had been assigned to the 549th Military Police Company, 385th Military Police Battalion, 16th Military Police Brigade (Airborne) out of Fort Stewart, Ga. He suffered burns over 40 to 45 percent of his body, said his mother, Jackie Godfrey O'Neill.

"He was a wonderful kid," said his mother. "They say you have problems with children in the teenage years, but that certainly was not the case with Jonathan."

Friends and family described a young man who was serious but still liked to have fun. He graduated from Zephyrhills in 2004 and was active in Junior ROTC. He served in the color guard, drill and rifle teams and was battalion commander his senior year, according to the yearbook.

During high school, he worked at Publix and Lowe's in Zephyrhills.

In 2007, he joined the Army.

"He enlisted after the war started, so he knew what he was getting himself into," said Mrs. O'Neill, who moved from Zephyrhills to Tennessee in 2006.

His final posting on Facebook on May 29 urged friends to contact him via e-mail. He also took the quiz "Which Friends character are you" and came up as Joey:

"You are completely lost in a conversation so you just nod and laugh along. You are constantly bringing home a new girl to your apartment just to make them pancakes and forget their name! You are fun to be around and always good for a laugh!"

After her son was wounded, Mrs. O'Neill kept his 93 other Facebook friends up to date on his progress via regular posts to his page.

He endured surgeries in which doctors took skin grafts to repair the burns. He needed 30 units of blood; the doctor said that was the most any patient of his ever needed, his mother said. His blood pressure fluctuated, and he had an infection in his blood.

On June 8, "I looked at his swollen head and body and I saw my little boy beneath all of the scrapes and burns," his mother wrote on Facebook. "I pray that God eases some of his pain and helps him through all of this. . . . please pray for him. He needs all of us right now."

Two days later, she looked at her son and for the first time saw a man.

"All these years he has been my 'baby', my 'boy', my 'boo' (don't ask) but today he is now my 'son', my 'friend', my 'Soldier, my 'HERO'........ I am so very proud of the man that he has become. I don't know what I ever have done to deserve such a gift."

On Wednesday Mrs. O'Neill said she learned that her son had received a Purple Heart from President Barack Obama, who was visiting the hospital in Germany where O'Neill was being treated before being transferred to the United States.

"They tried to keep him awake but he wasn't because of all the medication he was on."

Officials took photos and will send them to the family.

"That will be something to keep," his mother said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Zephyrhills solider wounded by IED blast in Afghanistan dies 06/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 8:07pm]
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