December 27, 2014

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Bridge dedicated in name of slain Army journalist

BIRMINGHAM — Three years after the death of her son, Patricia Phillips will have a new reminder of him each time she drives by the bridge near her Birmingham home.

The bridge, on state Route 113 over the Vermilion River, was named the “Staff Sgt. James P. Hunter Memorial Bridge” in Dec. 2012 after Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 300, endorsed by state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, into law.

Manning presented Saturday the sign that will be placed near the bridge during a ceremony before friends and family of Sgt. James Hunter.

Hunter’s father, Tom Hunter, and mother, Patricia Phillips, commented that James Hunter would be embarrassed by the attention if he were still alive today.

“He was pretty low key,” Phillips said. “He liked being behind the camera, not in front of it.”

Hunter, a photojournalist for the Army, was one of two soldiers killed by an insurgent bomb in Afghanistan while serving with the Second Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division. He was 25.

The bridge naming is one of many tributes to the fallen soldier. He previously received the Gold Star from the Ohio Legislature and was the only military journalist since the Vietnam War to be honored on the Journalists Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Although family described James Hunter as humble, his younger brother, Timothy Hunter, said it was an honor for the family to receive the sign.

“It’s a beautiful sign. It’s monumental,” he said. “It’s just a small consolation toward the price he paid.”

Timothy, 22, recited a speech Saturday before the sign was uncovered. He remained upbeat and said, “Life goes on” — James’s motto.

“In many ways, James was like a bridge. He helped many of us get from one side to the other. Even now in his memory, and what he was to us all and what he stood for, we continue crossing bridges,” he said.

James had his own choice, Timothy said. He had the opportunity to be a Pentagon liaison and tell the story of the Afghanistan war from the safety of Washington, D.C.

But James chose to return overseas as an embedded journalist, often fighting by the side of the soldiers he profiled. Armed with a camera and a gun, James had explained his choice to his family.

“… He said, ‘To tell a soldier’s story, you must fight by a soldier’s side,’” Timothy said.

James Hunter always had an interest in writing and in the Armed Forces, given his family’s strong military background. Tom Hunter also served in the 101st Airbone Division for 12 years, and, while he appreciates his son’s sacrifice, he still struggles with his death, especially this week.

James Hunter died June 18, 2010 — just days before Father’s Day. Tom Hunter said the holiday is an reminder of what he has lost.

“This kind of day hits me hard,” he said.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.