Community gathers to honor heroic pilot

BARNWELL, S.C. - Chief Warrant Officer Jason G. DeFrenn made a split-second decision as he flew in the skies over Iraq.

What he did that day saved lives, but it cost him his.

On Friday, the small community of Barnwell gathered to mourn the loss of Chief Warrant Officer DeFrenn, but they also came together to celebrate and praise his bravery in service to his country.

"My son was fearless - but he was thoughtful," his father, Garth DeFrenn, said during the service held at First Baptist Church and attended by about 450 people.

"I think all soldiers are like that - fearless and thoughtful. They do something we can't do."

Chief Warrant Officer DeFrenn's AH-64 Apache helicopter was shot down Feb. 2 by Iraqi insurgent ground fire.

Chief Warrant Officer DeFrenn and his copilot, Chief Warrant Officer Keith Yoakum, of Hemet, Calif., who also died, had turned back and engaged the enemy to protect an American flight formation, according to an Army statement.

During the eulogy, Mr. DeFrenn recalled his son's last actions in combat.

"My son did something very remarkable two weeks ago. While in combat, he was fired upon.

"My son decided to come in between the fire," he said. "In those few seconds, my son decided to lay down his life so others could live."

Chief Warrant Officer DeFrenn's legacy as a warrior and as a man will not soon be forgotten in Barnwell. The day he arrived home, Tuesday, at Barnwell Regional Airport, his casket was greeted by an honor guard and about 60 members of his family and the community.

"I couldn't ask for a better homecoming for my son," Mr. DeFrenn said.

He also said his grandchildren, Chief Warrant Officer DeFrenn's four children, will keep their father alive.

His youngest child, Christopher, was born to Jenny DeFrenn on Feb. 6 - four days after Chief Warrant Officer DeFrenn was killed, Mr. DeFrenn said.

"I hope Christopher grows up to be a peacemaker - we all need peace," he said.