As the Patriot Guard Riders drove out of the parking lot of Sageeyah Baptist Church in Claremore Friday, a special family was riding along with them on State Highway 88.
19-year-old Private First Class Jon Ross Townsend died in Afghanistan back in 2012.
His name is now memorialized north of Claremore on a roadside sign that reads "Pfc. Jon Ross Townsend Memorial Highway."
After Oklahoma State Representative Mark Lepak officially dedicated the roadway Friday afternoon, the Patriot Guard Riders traveled along the mile stretch of highway, with Townsend's family on the back of their motorcycles. Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers closed the section of highway down during the ceremony, so Townsend's family would be the first to ride on it following the dedication.
The location of the memorial highway is special to Townsend's family because it passes by Sageeyah Baptist Church.
"This is where his love for God started," his older sister Jennifer Tucker said.
Standing by his grandmother, Tucker said Sageeyah is where Townsend first attended church with the rest of his family. It is also where he turned into a soldier who kept God by his side while serving in the Army.
"The guys that he served with, they called him God's Soldier. Because he would tell everyone whether they wanted to listen to him or not, about God and what God had done for him," Tucker said.
His family described the fallen soldier as a 19-year-old man who always kept a smile on his face.
"Jon was very outgoing and happy," Tucker said. "Always happy. He loved God, he loved his friends, his family. That was very apparent all the time."
His grandmother Lois Harrison said she knew the risk of serving in the Army and tried talking her grandson out of it. Townsend felt a calling though and went overseas. His death caught Harrison off guard.
"Such a shock to everyone because he wanted to be a youth minister. He felt like he would make a terrific one," Harrison said. "But God had another use for him."
Now three years after the aspiring youth minister left them, his family is finding a bit of comfort in knowing his name lives on in front of the church he loved.
"Helps to know his memory is still alive," Tucker said. "Our community hasn't forgotten him."
was riding with the Patriot Guard as the first people to travel along the fallen soldier's memorial highway.
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