Once they were boys who liked to ride bikes, read books and go to the beach in Seaside Park and elsewhere. Then, so quickly, they became men carrying guns, finding themselves in harm's way.
Too soon, they were gone, their lives ended in wars that never seemed to end. At least 12 soldiers from Ocean County have died since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
On Veterans Day, Patch remembers Jersey Shore residents who died in war this year. Here are three of their stories.
Sgt. John A. Lyons, Seaside Park, Oct. 26
Berkeley Township Patrolman Richard Breitenbach rose early Thursday and began the trip to Dover, Del., to escort the body of Lyons, a young Seaside Park Army officer killed in Afghanistan on Oct. 26.
"We're showing a soldier some respect," Breitenbach said.
Lyons — a 2003 graduate — died on active duty in Ghazni Province. He was assigned to the 8th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade in Fort Hood, Texas.
Breitenbach and other officers escorted Lyons' hearse from the Dover Air Force base to the New Jersey border, where they were met by State Police. They then drove in a procession to J Street in Seaside Park, where he lived.
"It's a terrible thing, these kids going over there," Breitenbach said. "We've got to show them some respect. Too many people don't recognize what the military does."
Old friends, family friends and those who simply knew of him then gathered on J Street Thursday to pay their respects to the soldier.
Those friends remembered Lyons as a bright kid, the kind of guy who liked to read the dictionary, and take notes on what he was reading. The kind of guy who made everyone smile and laugh. The kind of guy who'd ride down the street, reading a book.
"He had the best smile ever," said Jennifer Padavano, a high school friend.
Lyons graduated from Rutgers University in 2008, with degrees in political science and Latin.
His family will receive friends at the funeral home from 1 to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Nicholas S. Ott, Manchester, Aug. 10
Brian George, 38, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 18 years, was one of the many onlookers lining Myrtle Avenue in Lakehurst in August to say goodbye as Ott's procession exited Saint John's Roman Catholic Church.
The procession then traveled toward Route 70, on its way to the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Memorial Cemetery in Arneytown.
"We came to support an American hero," he said of Ott, who was killed on Aug. 10 in Afghanistan. "To support the family."
When the services began, the Manchester Police Department Honor Guard stood watch as Ott's casket was brought into the church. Family and friends accompanied the Marine's body into the building as bagpipers played on.
About 45 minutes later, it was time for Ott to travel to his final resting place. Manchester and Lakehurst police, emergency responders, members of the Warriors' Watch Riders and countless vehicles of friends and family formed a procession that accompanied the corporal along the nearly 22-mile journey to the cemetery.
Even though George had never met Ott, he brought his son Daniel along to celebrate the life of the 23-year-old Marine, the 11th soldier from Ocean County to die since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"It's sad. The United States lost a hero," George said. "It's a sad moment."
To some, the , which ranged from memorials at Manchester's to the streets near the Ott family home, was proof to George that the people of the township appreciate the sacrifice of those in the armed forces.
"It shows that the citizens of Manchester care about their heroes in uniform," he said. "It's very nice to see, and it was very nice to see the support last night at the viewing. His untimely death will not be forgotten."
James Harvey, Toms River, June 20
The knock on the door of their Toms River home was the one the Harveys had been dreading since their son, James, was deployed to Afghanistan in January.
Just days after they’d received his sergeant stripes in the mail for their son’s upcoming promotion – and on the brink of the president’s announcement that troops would be withdrawn from the country – Susan and James Harvey learned that James, 23, had been killed in action June 20 when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire in the Ghazni province.
“As soon as my mom opened the door, she knew. They didn't have to say anything,” said Harvey’s sister, Christine. “It’s mind-numbing. It’s still surreal for us.”
Harvey was a 2005 Arthur L. Johnson graduate, where he played lacrosse for two years, was well liked, a good student and had many friends. He lived on Conger Way in Clark after moving from Union with his parents and three older sisters – Christine, 35, Robin, 29, and Tracey, 25. The Harveys moved to Toms River in 2007.
Harvey went on to study at Lincoln Tech, work as a mechanic and then as a substation operator for PSEG. But joining the Army was always on his mind. He enlisted in January 2009 and was deployed to Afghanistan in January of this year.
The Harvey family’s pain is only mitigated by the knowledge that James – more often known as “Jimmy” – died with honor, doing what he loved.
“Jimmy wanted to do this right out of high school,” said Christine. “I do think 9/11 might have had a little to do with it. He was trying to find out where his knack was after high school and the bottom line was it all kept leading back to the Army.”
“It was something he felt he had to do,” said Tracey.