Soldier gets a resting place
300 people fill small Venango County church to pay final respects to G.I. killed in Iraq
Saturday, April 17, 2004

SENECA, Pa. -- One week after his last day in Iraq, Spc. Jonathan Kephart was back in the church he loved yesterday, in a flag-draped coffin surrounded by a congregation that joined in a robust chorus for "Victory in Jesus."

Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
Donna and Burton Kephart watch yesterday as an honor guard folds the flag that had draped the casket of their son, Spc. Jonathan Kephart, who was fatally wounded in an ambush near Baghdad last week.
Click photo for larger image.
The 21-year-old was laid to rest at Brandon Cemetery, near the juncture of two dirt roads across a fallow field from Faith Baptist Church. More than 300 people turned out for his service in Venango County. In front of houses that lined the road, flags at half-staff waved gently under a baby-blue sky.

Receiving well-wishers at the front of the church, Jonathan's father, Burton Kephart, whose family lives in Oil City, shook hand after hand, saying, "Thank you for coming." To one man, he said, "God is very good." The friend dropped the handshake and embraced the stoic father, whose eyes welled with tears as he said, "He's in his glory."

The second of four children, Jonathan was wounded in an ambush near Baghdad April 8 while on patrol as a member of the Army's 230th Military Police Company. He died the next day. He had been in Iraq for 10 days after a little more than two years in the Army.

The family did not wish to reveal the details of his death yesterday, but Kephart's basketball coach and pastor at Faith Christian Academy, David Foote, said a young man had driven from Sharon to pay his respects at the funeral home Thursday night because, he said, "Jonathan had saved his sister's life."

Spc. Jonathan Kephart
Burton Kephart, who drives a truck for a lumber company, took a step away from his family, out into the open, and tilted his head as the flag was folded into a triangle. Then he stepped back into the fold with his wife, Donna, a teacher, and their surviving children, Anna Rose, 23, David, 17, and Deborah, 15.

Donna Kephart held the folded flag and two boxes, one holding a Bronze Star, the other a Purple Heart. At the first notes of "Taps," Anna dropped her head into her hand and Deborah scrunched her eyebrows fiercely.

Foote addressed the congregation at the church, sharing memories of the young athlete he had obviously adored.

"Jonathan was a fierce competitor. If he didn't make a basket, he would glare at the basketball. If there was a chance to upgrade, he did. I told him, 'You're a good basketball player, but a great player makes his teammates better. He took that as a challenge. It was an upgrade he took to Iraq with him."

Kephart's goal was to be a policeman, "and he also wanted to learn construction and to serve the Lord," said his friend, Matt Bernard, who led the singing from the pulpit yesterday and who said his friend used to crack him up: "He would say things that were just hilarious."

Foote, who also has a painting business, hired Kephart to work with him. "He was probably the best worker I ever had. He was dependable, honest and fun to be around.

"We will all miss his mischievous smile. He's one of the nicest kids Oil City's ever seen."

First published on April 17, 2004 at 12:00 am
Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at or 412-263-1626.
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