Traverse City Record-Eagle


July 26, 2012

Kingsley mourns loss of one of their own

KINGSLEY — American flag banners hang from light posts and greet motorists who head into Kingsley's downtown.

A larger banner, perhaps 25 feet long, stretches across a building at the village's main crossroads. It's hard to miss:

"Welcome to Kingsley. We Love The U.S.A."

That patriotic embrace was in full display well before residents learned one of their own died in combat in Afghanistan. The red, white and blue surely won't come down any time soon.

A permanent memorial of some sort likely will be erected for Justin Hansen, 26, a United States Marine and 2003 Kingsley High School graduate who died Tuesday, shot to death on duty.

A marker might rise near the football field where Hansen starred, or somewhere in the downtown area. But location won't matter much.

"He's one of those guys where you won't have to put up a monument," said Jon Walton, 27, a Kingsley resident and Hansen's lifelong friend. "They'll always remember him."

Plenty in this southern Grand Traverse County village knew Hansen. Some didn't. But no one is more than a few connections away.

"We are still a small community. Everybody knows everybody," said Amanda Herrick, who graduated a year before Hansen. "Even if you didn't know the person, you know somebody affected by it."

Cathy Harrigan, who owns Kingsley Floral & Gifts, heard the news early Wednesday. She didn't know Hansen, but that mattered little.

"It's still heartbreaking," she said.

Micki Davis owns Bright Side Cafe, across from Kingsley's post office. She and several others discussed the sad news in the cafe. A local's death always brings war into sharper focus, she said.

"I think it feels more personal; it's so close to home," he said. "You can't help but think: What if that was my son?"

Several remembered Hansen, a standout football player in high school, for his good attitude.

"He was always full of energy, always up for something new, no matter what it was," Walton said. "And he was the most committed person I've ever met. Whatever he did, he did 110 percent."

Walton's mother, Diane Walton, runs a youth center in Kingsley. She knew Hansen since he was a child, and remembers an incident in which Hansen, her son and a few other students came home from school at lunch to raid her kitchen when she was away.

A pile of money was left behind, intended to help her buy replacement food. That showed responsibility, she said.

Diane Walton, who couldn't hold back tears as she spoke of Hansen, said those who knew him took pride in his dedication and service.

"So many of us, I think, are worried about the younger generation because they don't seem to have commitment," she said. "For someone to step up to the plate like that and serve their country, it takes a lot of integrity. It takes a lot of selflessness, knowing you could be in harm's way."

Jon Walton said Hansen became interested in military service in high school when he spoke to a friend's father, who served in the military.

"He knew he wanted to do something important with his life," he said.

Hansen regularly visited friends in Kingsley while on leave. Local residents always seemed appreciative, Jon Walton said.

"There wasn't a single time when we were out that someone didn't stop him and say 'Thank you for what you're doing," he said.

Hansen eventually became disillusioned with the Afghanistan war, Jon Walton said, and struggled with America's continued presence there. He thought it was more about politics and power than doing good, and didn't plan to go back once he returned home. But those concerns didn't undermine his dedication.

"He loved serving his country," he said.

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