Memorial Day tribute: Spc. Joseph Lancour

May 25, 2014
Spc. Joseph Lancour

Spc. Joseph Lancour

Medal of Honor awarded to Seattle soldier for actions during firefight that killed Lancour.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

On this Memorial Day, the federal holiday set aside to remember those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the Armed Services, we would like to pay tribute to Army Spc. Joseph Lancour. Lancour was the last soldier from Mason County to die in military service. He died on Nov. 9, 2007 in Afghanistan.

Two weeks ago, the man who accompanied Joe’s body back to Ludington — and also saved several of the soldiers in his platoon — was presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama.  Lancour’s mother, Starla Ownens, travelled to Washington, D.C. to watch the ceremony.

Joe was a 2004 graduate of Ludington High School. He joined the Army in early 2006. After basic training, he was assigned to a base in Italy with the 172nd Airbourne. In the spring of 2007 he was deployed to Afghanistan.

“He loved being in the Army. He truly loved it,” Starla said. “He would have been a lifer. I just know it.”

“Joe was a kind hearted, carrying wonderful young man,” Starla said. “He would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it. I was told by the soldiers that were in his platoon that he was one who would get up in the morning and if you didn’t have a smile on your face he would put one on our face. He lived life to the fullest. He didn’t like to see people down.

“He loved to fish and hunt, and friends and family were important to him. That was the top priority on his list. I remember one Mother’s Day, I got a hand drawn picture of a bouquet of flowers in the mail with a note that said ‘When I see you I will have a nice bouquet of flowers for you.’ He was just a thoughtful person.”

Spc. Kyle White

Spc. Kyle White

On Nov. 9, 2007, Company C, Second Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborn Brigade, was on patrol in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.

Joe and his comrades, which included Spc. Kyle White of Seattle, were returning to Bella Outpost from a shura with Aranas Village elders. As the soldiers traversed a narrow path surrounded by mountainous, rocky terrain, they were ambushed by enemy forces from elevated positions.

Pinned against a steep mountain face, the soldiers were completely exposed to enemy fire. The American soldiers returned fire. White was knocked unconscious when a rocket-propelled grenade impacted near him. When he regained consciousness another round impacted near him, embedding small pieces of shrapnel in his face. He then noticed one of his comrades lying wounded nearby.

He exposed himself to enemy fire in order to reach the soldier and provide medical care. After applying a tourniquet, White moved to an injured Marine and provided medical care to him as well until the Marine succumbed to his wounds.

White then returned to the soldier and discovered that he had been wounded again. Applying his own belt as an additional tourniquet, White was able to stem the flow of blood and save the soldier’s life. Noticing that his and the other soldier’s radios were inoperative, White exposed himself to enemy fire yet again in order to secure a radio from a deceased comrade. He then provided information and updates to friendly forces, allowing precision airstrikes to stifle the enemy’s attack and ultimately permitting medical evacuation aircraft to rescue him, his fellow soldiers, Marines and Afghan Army soldiers.

Five soldiers died as a result of the attack, including Joseph Lancour. White accompanied the body back to Ludington.

Starla, Joe’s mother, said she doesn’t really remember meeting White seven years ago. She said that period of time is a blur to her. Making the trip to Washington was even more special because she was able to talk to him with a clearer head.

“I don’t remember talking to him. I know that I did and I know that I thanked him for what he did for my son,” Starla said. “I was such in a phase and grieving that I just don’t remember.”

Starla said meeting Kyle again was the highlight of the trip to Washington, even more precious of a memory than meeting the president.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said about the trip. “It was very humbling. I felt like I was in awe of being around such wonderful men, meeting the men who served with my son and sitting with and talking to Kyle. I just gave him a very heartfelt thanks for coming home with my son and returning his body to Ludington.

“Kyle is a very appreciative young man. He is not a gloatful man. He was very humble about the entire ceremony. Even though he is no longer a soldier, you can tell he still carries that sense of honor about him. You could tell when watching him stand at the podium next to the President.”

Starla lives in Kaleva in northern Manistee County. But, she received financial assistance to go on the trip through the Mason County Veterans Endowment Fund. She also received aid through the Traverse City Area Veterans Coalition, along with private contributors. She was the official representative of Congressman Dan Benishek.

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