Cpl. Jonathan Winterbottom, a Class of 2003 graduate of Falls Church High School, was killed in Iraq May 23 when a roadside bomb exploded near the vehicle in which he was riding. Winterbottom was 21 years old.
Winterbottom, who was known as Jon to his friends, enlisted in the Army after graduating high school. Friends say that he originally enlisted with the intention of becoming an Army ranger, but found his true calling as a medic, as he had always wanted to help people. Genevieve Makris, a fellow class of 2003 FCHS graduate who says she had known Winterbottom since the two of them “were in diapers,” said Winterbottom most enjoyed taking care of the Iraqi children. Winterbottom, who was stationed out of Fort Benning, Ga., was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed.
In high school, Winterbottom participated actively in sports, joining the wrestling, track, cross country, football and lacrosse teams. Friends say he was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life following graduation, which led him to enlist in the Army. While in high school, Winterbottom also had to endure to loss of his mother, Evelyn, who passed away from lung cancer.
Winterbottom’s friends remembered him for his friendship and personality.
“He was probably the most unique person I’ve ever met,” Danny Omana said. Omana was also a class of 2003 FCHS graduate and a member of the “Fab Four,” the name given to the close-knit quartet of Omana, Winterbottom, Tony Hayduk and Jeff Newell. Hayduk called Winterbottom an “amazing friend,” adding that he could “depend on him for pretty much anything.” Close friend Jana Kuwano described Winterbottom as being “very funny” and having “a good head on his shoulders.”
Robert Winterbottom, Jon’s father, who described his son as a “wonderful, loving, energetic guy,” says that Jon would not want his loved ones to be sad for too long.
“If he were here to speak for himself, I’m sure he’d say ‘Don’t spend a lot of time grieving. Get on with your life. I always enjoyed life, and you should too.’”
Winterbottom leaves behind a younger sister, Sarah, 19, and a younger brother, J.J., 17.
On Friday, May 25, the day that Jonathan Winterbottom would have turned 22 years old, his friends assembled at the Winterbottom home to pay tribute to and celebrate the life of the friend and family member that they all loved. They brought cards, lit candles, exchanged stories of their favorite moments with Jon, sang “Amazing Grace” and “Happy Birthday.” Winterbottom’s father said it was “very moving” to see his son’s friends come out and show their love and support.
While his friends said that the vigil was obviously a very sad occasion, Kuwano said that there were happy times as well.
“It wasn’t just sad because we all talked about why we were there,” Kuwano said. “And why we loved him so much.”
Hayduk saw it as an opportunity to repay his loyal friend. When Hayduk turned 21, Winterbottom, who was in Iraq at the time, still managed to call and wish his buddy a happy birthday. Hayduk said that this is a prime example of the type of friend Winterbottom was.
“We all owed him something,” Hayduk said.
Winterbottom’s funeral Mass will be held at the Word of Life Assembly of God Church (5225 Backlick Rd., Springfield, Va.) on Saturday, June 2. He will be buried with his mother at the Oakwood Cemetery in Falls Church. There will also be a viewing Friday, June 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the National Funeral Home (7482 Lee Highway, Falls Church).
As sad as his friends are at the loss of their loyal and good friend, Winterbottom’s memory still brings joy to their lives.
“Even now, you can’t help but smile when you think about him,” said Kuwano. “Because that’s what he was always doing.”