By Kathi Bliss
A great smile.
A clown who wanted to have fun and make people laugh.
And above all, a Texan.
Family, friends and classmates use those words time and again to describe Jason LaFleur, a 1997 graduate of Lockhart High School. LaFleur, 28, a corporal in the U.S. Army based at Ft. Richardson, Alaska, was killed near Hawr Rajab, Iraq when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (IED) during combat operations, according to an Aug. 6 press release from the Pentagon. Also killed in the explosion were Sgt. Dustin S. Wakeman, 25, of Ft. Worth, and Pfc. Jaron D. Holliday, 21, of Tulsa. The men were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.
“He loved what he was doing, and he was good at it,” said LaFleur’s mother, Kei Torres on Tuesday. “He was so proud of his Airborne status… it was a really big deal for him.”
According to Torres, LaFleur had only five months left on his deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and had visited home as recently as Father’s Day.
“He surprised us all when he came home,” she said. “And he talked about where he was living, what they were eating or couldn’t eat, and the guys that were with him. But he wouldn’t talk about their missions or assignments, because he didn’t want us to think about that part of it.”
Torres admits that she worried about her son, and could never quite picture him as a soldier.
“I saw the nine-month-old baby,” she said. “I saw the 4-year-old playing soccer. But I never really pictured the grown man with the guns.”
The memory is one that many members of the community share.
“He was around our house a lot,” said Patty White, the mother of one of LaFleur’s classmates. “The boys were in school together from first grade on, and he was at our house a lot… He was usually happy and laughing, and he had the most amazing smile.”
“The smile” according to another classmate, was the tip of the iceberg to LaFleur’s playful nature.
“Jason was always the kind of guy who would poke at you, but just to have fun and make you laugh,” said Anisha Moore, who played in the band with LaFleur. “I had at least one class with him every year, we were in school together from first grade, and he was always joking and up to something.”
According to Torres, though, beneath the playful personality lay a single-minded drive and desire to succeed.
“He didn’t fail at anything,” she said. “Once he made up his mind he was going to do something, he just did it… he didn’t know how not to.”
LaFleur’s enlistment in the Army was one of those decisions.
“He decided a full year before he enlisted that he wanted to,” Torres said. “He took that time to change his eating habits and exercise, just to make sure that he was up to all of the physical parts of the job that the Army would require. And when he got in, he loved it, and dedicated himself to it.”
Now, though, Torres and her husband Alan, LaFleur’s sister Megan and their father, Chuck, along with the rest of LaFleur’s family and friends, must figure out how to go on.
“Everyone is being very kind, but there’s nothing, really, anything can do to make this better for us,” Torres said. “The only thing we can do now is honor him and his commitment, and his devotion to his fellow soldiers.”
Those wishing to honor and remember LaFleur will be invited to a public memorial service to be held in Lockhart in the near future. Arrangements will be announced by the family as more information is available, and the Lockhart Post-Register will pass along those updates via our website, www.post-register.com.
Those who prefer to make donations in memory of LaFleur should contact Operation Homefront at www.operationhomefront.net, or Spartan Heroes at www.spartanheroes.org.
According to Veterans’ Service Officer Larry Corpus, LaFleur is the first resident soldier of Caldwell County to be killed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.