Highly decorated Army captain and Johns Hopkins graduate who was killed in Iraq leaves behind a young widow, just 10 months after their wedding

`We wanted to love each other forever'

April 13, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

Their story began on her first day at the Johns Hopkins University, the day Jenna Parkinson, a freshman, met Jonathan Grassbaugh, an intimidating senior and the battalion commander in the ROTC program she joined.

It ended nearly six years later on a spring day at Fort Bragg, N.C., when Parkinson - now Jenna Grassbaugh - learned that just 10 months after getting married, she is now a widow.

"When I saw the two of them at my door, I just thought it had to [be] something else," said Jenna Grassbaugh, 22, a first-year law school student at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

"I just wanted them to tell me he was hurt and not gone. Anything.

"Anything to not be what it was," she said.

Army Capt. Jonathan D. Grassbaugh, 25, of East Hampstead, N.H., was killed Saturday in Zaganiyah, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated as he conducted a combat logistics patrol, according to the Department of Defense.

He was one of four casualities, all soldiers assigned to the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg.

Also killed were Spc. Ebe F. Emolo, 33, of Greensboro, N.C., Spc. Levi K. Hoover, 23, of Midland, Mich., and Pfc. Rodney L. McCandless, 21, of Camden, Ark.

They are among almost 3,300 U.S. military casualties since the inception of the Iraq war in March 2003.

An Army Ranger, Grassbaugh earned a Bronze Star and numerous other awards.

Quiet yet confident, deliberate and a leader, Grassbaugh was the kind of soldier who flew Pizza Hut pizza from 100 kilometers away to where his troops were conducting combat operations.

"That single act raised the entire Squadron's moral and made up for us missing Thanksgiving and Christmas," wrote Ray Edgar, a squadron command sergeant major, in a remembrance piece.

He was the kind of husband who mailed his Valentine's Day card especially early, arriving in his wife's mailbox more than a week ahead of time, even though it came from Iraq.

"It was one of the nicest things he ever sent me," said Jenna Grassbaugh, who has deferred her active duty service until after completing law school. "He was talking about how he couldn't wait to come home and to be with me, and that we were going to have a family and grow old together with our family. ... We really wanted just to love each other forever."

Grassbaugh was raised in East Hampstead, N.H., and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, said Jason Grassbaugh, 29, his brother.

He enrolled at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1999 and joined the ROTC, eventually becoming a cadet battalion commander as a senior. At Hopkins, he was also a member of the Pershing Rifles, a military fraternity.

The military was in his blood. His father was in the Army, and his brother is a surgeon at Fort Lewis, Wash.

"He was physically and mentally tough," said Rimas Radzius, 26, who graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2004 and was in the ROTC with Grassbaugh.

"He could always outthink anybody," he added. "He was one of the ones who made me decide to go into the Army. He's a big reason why I joined, to be around guys like him."

Radzius is now a battalion intelligence officer at Fort Campbell, Ky., with the 101st Airborne Division.

Grassbaugh met his future wife through the ROTC program, when she pledged the fraternity he was in. They started dating in March 2003, shortly after sharing a flight back to school, several months before he graduated.

They maintained their relationship no matter where Grassbaugh went, from Fort Lewis to Korea, where he was stationed for a year, to New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. In the summer of 2005, he was sent to Baghdad for several months, serving as an aide-de-camp, an assistant and confidential secretary to a superior.

He proposed to Parkinson on April 30, 2005. When Grassbaugh filled out a questionnaire before his wedding for his officiate, he was asked, "Where is a sacred spot, a place where you feel most connected, most at peace and most inspired?"

His answer: "With my wife."

They married June 9, 2006, on a rainy weekend in Cape Cod. When the sky cleared for just 10 minutes, Grassbaugh made sure to usher everyone out to the beach to shoot pictures. "That was the kind of guy he was," said his brother. "He had that sort of checklist in his mind. He was very focused."

Grassbaugh was deployed to Iraq on July 31. Family and friends say he never expressed fear or anger about going there.

"He really believed in mission first," said Jenna Grassbaugh. "He would never question that. I know when they lost men back in the end of last year, it really made him think about everything that was going on, but not so much in the sense of, `What am I doing?' but just hoping that they'd make that sacrifice for what they went in for."

His fellow soldiers said one of his favorite pastimes was watching his wedding video.

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