THEY CALLED HIM SUNSHINE
US Army SSGT Jeffrey Dayton
Died April 29, 2004
Today's post is in honor of US Army Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Dayton of Caledonia, MS. SSGT Dayton is one of two young men from Caledonia to die in Iraq. The other is SSGT Brian Freeman, featured on 40 Days of Honor last week.
Everyone called him “Sunshine”. It’s not exactly the kind of nickname you would expect from a soldier in the Army. But that is what Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Dayton was known as to the people in his unit –“Sunshine”. He earned his nickname because of the smile he carried on his face, as if it were just another part of his uniform. Jeffrey had a very kind, overly friendly disposition that never seemed to get rattled. And when you served in conditions like Jeffrey and his fellow soldiers did, you needed some of that positive spirit from time to time. Sunshine was there to deliver.
Jeffrey Dayton had another nickname. It was one he used to refer to himself. That nickname was “Six”. As the sixth child of Jim & Sheila Dayton, Jeffrey “Six” Dayton had a special place in his family, again because of his upbeat personality. They all loved him and recognized his incredibly positive outlook.
Jeffrey entered the Army in February 1998, but it was a duty he seemed destined for even as a child. According to his family, he was always drawn to "all things Army". But on April 29, 2004, “Six” was killed with seven other men in his unit when a suicide bomber attacked their patrol.
When news of his death reached his brother John serving with the Air Force in the Middle East, he immediately requested to leave his post in order to escort his little brother’s body home. For John, it was his duty as a brother and his duty as a soldier to not let Jeffrey make the journey alone. As John made his way with Jeffrey through airports in Frankfort (Germany), Atlanta, and Memphis, he was amazed at the outpouring of respect he received. But even with the show of respect, it was the hardest thing he had ever done. Here is what he shared:
During the mission to escort my brother's body back home, the most difficult of any mission ever assigned to me, several people approached me in airports and thanked me for my service. I politely thanked them, but inside I felt hollow, and guilty. It just didn't seem right - my little brother died protecting others and they were thanking me. If only they knew. Some did recognize that the package in my hands contained an internment flag, and speaking with them made me feel better when I knew that their appreciation was more appropriately placed with my brother. John Galbreath, brother of Jeffrey Dayton
When he arrived in Columbus, MS, the show of respect continued. The Columbus Police Department cleared the roads and posted an officer at each intersection, each one standing in salute to Jeffrey. But the hardest part of all was when John finally arrived at his parents' home and knocked on the door. Even though his mother already knew what had happened, there was a certain reaility and finality to the moment that John still remembers to this day. He hated to see his mother crushed in this way.
SSGT Jeffrey Dayton was buried in Corinth, MS, the nearest military cemetery to his home in Caledonia. Today, a monument stands in his honor as well as in honor of SSGT Brian Freeman, two young men from the same town who gave their lives for freedom. Appropriately, it faces to the west, watching as the sunshine goes down from the day.
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