Pfc. Albert R. Jex was posthumously promoted to specialist, and his family was presented with the Bronze Star and other medals Thursday during a funeral service in which he was remembered as a free spirit and a soldier's soldier.
Brig. Gen. Thomas Cole, the U.S. Army chief of staff's representative at the service, made the promotion announcement during his remarks before a gathering of about 300 people in Mount Olive Lutheran Church.
Cole called Jex "an all-American young man" and "a tremendous soldier."
Jex, 23, who grew up in Lockport, was buried in Cold Spring Cemetery after the service.
He was killed Feb. 9 when a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle at an Iraqi police checkpoint in Mosul, Iraq.
Jex died along with three other soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division: Lt. Col. Garnet R. Derby, 44, of Missoula, Mont.; Sgt. Joshua A. Ward, 30, of Scottsville, Ky.; and Pfc. Jonathan R. Roberge, 22, of Leominster, Mass.
Three of the soldiers, including Jex, had been assigned to bodyguard detail for Derby. They were in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
"Specialist Jex was a tremendous soldier. Only the best of the best serve on teams like the Personal Security Team, and that was Albert: all-American, the best of the best," Cole said.
Daniel Aureli, the brother of Jex's mother, Cathleen MacFarlane, delivered a eulogy that focused on his nephew's service to country and his fun side.
"You Army guys probably wouldn't recognize Albert if he showed up with that Mohawk haircut . . .," Aureli said. "We're all sad his life was short. That's the absolute reaction, and everyone in this room shares it. But we all can be gratified because Albert lived his life without any pretense. He did it his way. He was a free spirit."
"He lived for the country he swore to defend," Aureli added. "He lived for his fellow soldiers."
He recalled Jex shaking a champagne bottle at his sister's wedding and spraying everyone with what turned out to be confetti. Aureli also remembered Jex the carpenter, who worked at that trade in Phoenix after graduating from Lockport High School in 2003.
"When it seemed like things weren't going to get fixed, Albert always said, 'Putty and paint makes it what it ain't,' " Aureli recalled.
He said he can see Jex, "that proud handsome soldier, walking toward heaven" to meet his great-uncle, also named Albert, who died in World War II. Jex was named in part for him.
"Cathy told me that Albert said when he left Lockport, he had one brother, and when he arrived in Iraq, he had 33 brothers," Aureli said.
Cole said that if you asked someone to describe an all-American young man, you'd probably describe Albert Jex: "Cheeseburgers, fast cars, sports, hunting, fishing, not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get dirty and do an honest day's work. A great smile that said he loved life and was proud to be an American.
"That great American joined the Army in a time of war to defend his country."
Jex entered the service in late 2006 and was less than two months into his first overseas deployment when he was killed.
Cole presented his parents the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Action Badge.
"Many referred to Albert as a soldier's soldier," Cole said. "This is perhaps the highest compliment that a soldier can give another soldier. It describes an individual who embodies the Army values of honor, integrity, loyalty, respect, selfless service, courage and duty."
Cole said he received a message from the chaplain of Jex's unit, who said, "We will honor our fallen brothers by continuing our mission and making Mosul, Iraq, a better place. This is how soldiers honor soldiers: grieving our loss but continuing the mission that is part of their common bond."
Lockport honored Jex with hundreds of citizens, many holding flags, standing along the curb as the hearse with the Army seal on the side moved slowly from Prudden & Kandt Funeral Home to the church on a windy, cold morning with snow flurries in the air.
The procession was led by four city police cars, a Niagara County Sheriff's Office patrol car and a South Lockport Fire Company truck, all wailing their sirens. Also near the front, in front of a fleet of limousines for the family, drove Mayor Michael W. Tucker in his official car. Rep. Chris Lee, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, Assemblywoman Jane Corwin and Lockport Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith also attended.
At the church, as six Army pallbearers moved the flag-draped casket from the hearse into the church, local veterans held larger flags, and a bagpiper led the way into a church that was full 40 minutes before the scheduled 11 a.m. starting time for the funeral.
The Rev. Otto G. Struckmann presided over the service. Music was provided by Buffalo Sabres organist Ken Kaufman at the piano, with vocalists Michelle Farina, Emily Kearns and Betty Jackson.
The Emmet Belknap Middle School band, including Jex's sister Mackenzie MacFarlane, played a medley of "The Army Goes Rolling Along" and "America the Beautiful" after the first Scripture reading.