Soldier Uses Leave To Attend Graduation

By Eric Flack

(BARDSTOWN, Ky., June 9th, 2004, 3 p.m.) -- One soldier traveled thousands of miles from the battlefields of Iraq to be at the Bardstown High School graduation even though his brother wasn't there to get a diploma. WAVE 3 Investigator Eric Flack has the story of a family and a class brought together by a tragic loss.

On a day when Bardstown High School seniors were preparing to move forward, two parents in the crowd, Bill and Paula Brown, couldn't help but look back.

Four years ago, their son, Jeremy Brown, died when he was crushed helping friends move a piano. "He always helped anybody do anything, his accident proved that," Bill said, adding that the family is "still getting through it, emotions still come and go."

But Jeremy's friends have been there the whole time, offering love and support -- in good times and in bad. On Saturday, the fourth anniversary of Jeremy's death, one of Jeremy's classmates gave his Bill and Paula a special quilt. "It was photocopies of their kindergarten drawings," Bill said.

Jeremy's parents are grateful to his classmates for keeping his memory alive. "They have not forgotten," Paula said. "They've promised us they will never forget."

And they didn't forget at graduation -- leaving an empty seat in Jeremy's honor. One by one, his friends filled it with roses. "Hopefully, he is here watching, listening, smiling," said one classmate who addressed the audience.

"No matter what, Jeremy's not coming back," said his sister, Kristen. "But just to see that these kids still remember him and that they let his spirit live on means a lot to me."

And it means a lot to Jeremy's brother, Justin, who traveled across the world to attend the graduation his brother couldn't make.

Coming home wasn't as easy as it might sound for Justin. A member of the Kentucky Air National Guard stationed right outside Kuwait, Justin had to fly almost 24 hours to get to Louisville International Airport in time. "I thought I'd never get here," he said.

WAVE's Air 3 picked Justin up at the airport and flew him to Bardstown so he could get to the graduation before it was over.

"It means a lot to me and it really means a lot to my family," Justin said. "It's just good to be back home."

As they walked out high school graduates, the graduates presented the family with flowers for a life that never got a chance to fully blossom.

Now his brother Justin wonders how it would be if things had turned out differently. "I couldn't help but think what it would be like if he was there you know? And how things would be."

Justin almost didn't make it to the graduation because he wasn't scheduled for leave until later this month, but a friend serving with him switched so Justin could make it home. That friend is also from Bardstown, and was also one of Jeremy's closest friends.

Online Reporter: Eric Flack

Online Producer: Michael Dever