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Local Navy Medic Killed In Action


Mourning the death of one of their own, both the Riverbank and Escalon communities are grieving over the loss of Navy medical corpsman James Layton, who died in combat in Afghanistan on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

Petty Officer 3rd Class James Ray "Doc" Layton, 22, was tending the wounds of a Marine when both were hit by bullets and killed during an ambush by insurgents in Kunar province near the Pakistan border. (See obituary in this week's issue, Page A5.)

A memorial service with full military honors is slated for Thursday, Sept. 17 at 10 a.m. at Burwood Cemetery on River Road in Escalon, followed by a reception at the Escalon Community Center. Layton is the first serviceman from this area killed in action in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the 28th from the Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothills.

His body was scheduled to arrive at the Modesto Airport on Tuesday, with a contingent of personnel from the Escalon Police Department, Escalon Fire Department and Escalon Community Ambulance planning to escort the body back to Escalon. The caravan was also slated to include Layton's father, Brent Layton of Escalon, and other family members.

The Navy has announced it will award Layton the Purple Heart medal for bravery and Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a statement Thursday and ordered flags at the Capitol flown at half-mast in his honor.

"California has lost a brave sailor in Petty Officer James Layton. His willingness to give his life in service to our country is a courageous sacrifice that will never be forgotten. Maria and I send our condolences to all of James' family and loved ones during this difficult time," he said.

The son of Nikki Freitas of Riverbank and Brent Layton of Escalon, James Layton also is survived by several siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends.

Layton grew up in Riverbank but graduated from Vista High School in Escalon in 2005. He enlisted in the Navy two years ago.

Initially stationed in Japan to train with a Marine Corps unit, he had been serving in Afghanistan as a medic for about two months at the time of his death.

Layton was one of four Americans killed in a training mission with Afghan forces sent into the mountains on foot to search a village for weapons and then meet for talks with village elders, according to a statement issued by the US Department of Defense.

Brent Layton said he learned Monday that his son was injured in the arm and leg by a roadside bomb two days before his death. Superior officers suggested he be withdrawn from front line missions until his wounds healed.

"But he told them 'patch me up and send me back in.' So they did," his father commented.

Layton also learned his son advanced in rank to petty officer in an unusually short time because of his dedication to the job he had chosen.

"It's true his grandfather (the late Ray D. Hughes) was in the Navy, as an aircraft controller. James was greatly influenced by him. But he was a little torn, too, in choosing a career ... because I was in law enforcement and he didn't know which way to go."

Family and friends, including aunt Teri Lindgren of Escalon, were remembering him as a playful and witty young man, one who liked to make people laugh.

"He was kindhearted and a true inspiration to everyone he knew," said Lindgren. "He will always be missed. He will never be forgotten."

Teachers at Vista High in Escalon described Layton as a quiet student, but one who loved music and was dedicated to his schooling, graduating early after transferring from the traditional high school setting to the Vista campus.

"He was one of the kids that always put the flag up for us each day," noted current Escalon High School Principal Joel Johannsen, who was serving as Vista principal when Layton graduated. "He was a great kid that worked hard and he was very thoughtful ... this was just tragic."

Teacher Shane Bua said he could always count on Layton to add to classroom discussions.

"He would come up with some good deep thoughts, his mind was always working," Bua offered. "And he was quick to laugh."

Fellow Vista teacher Marlin Moreno said when he was at Vista, Layton hadn't yet expressed an interest in the military.

"It was a couple of years after that (graduation) he joined," Moreno said. "It was very impressive that he became a medic.

"This was pretty sad news."

A funeral procession including will leave from Deegan Funeral Chapel in Escalon on Thursday morning and head south on McHenry Avenue to River Road on the way to Burwood, passing through a huge flag arch on McHenry, set up by firefighters.