There is a picture Tom Hunter likes to look at of his son. The little boy is 3 years old, with platinum blond hair and Mickey Mouse house shoes.
This photo, Tom Hunter says, is Jimmy, before he was Staff Sgt. James Hunter, decorated Army journalist, casualty of war.
“I think this shows his personality, even then,” Tom Hunter said, pointing to James Hunter’s small hand, slightly covering the right side of his face.
James Hunter didn’t seek attention, his father said, and all the awards and accolades he has received since his death would have embarrassed him.
Still, the father is certain his son is deserving of all the awards, having been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan June 2010, camera in hand, trying to document the lives of his fellow soldiers.
“I was in the military, and I loved it as well, but I never accomplished what he accomplished,” Hunter said of his son.
Now he and state Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, are working to help James Hunter receive the Kentucky Medal for Freedom, an honor created in 2008 for the families of soldiers killed in action after Jan. 1, 1991.
Tom Hunter said he learned about the Medal for Freedom in February, when James Hunter and several other Kentucky soldiers were honored on the House floor. The Hunter family also was presented with a resolution honoring James.
Each family received an application for the Medal for Freedom, Hunter said, and while filling it out he noticed that the form required the soldier’s address of record when joining the service. Although James Hunter was born in Lexington, and attended Lexington’s Leestown Middle School, he was living in South¿Amherst, Ohio, with his mother, Patricia Phillips, when he joined the military.
“I asked them if that was a problem, and they told me not to worry about it,” Hunter said.
The award is only for Kentucky soldiers, and Hunter said he specifically asked if his son was eligible, and was led to believe that James Hunter did qualify.
When Hunter never heard any more about the award, he began making phone calls. He soon discovered he had mailed the application to the wrong department, sending it the office of the Speaker of the House because that was where he had received the application and learned about the Medal for Freedom.
However, after several phone calls and requests for information, Hunter said officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the office that processes Medal for Freedom requests, told him his son would not receive the award.
“I said, ‘I asked that question when we went down for the ceremony.’ I think it was a breakdown in communication,” Hunter said.
According to the Department for Veterans Affairs, the only way for James Hunter to receive the award would be to change the current legislation.
“It specifically says in the KRS (Kentucky Revised Statutes), this is for Kentucky soldiers. By listing Ohio as his home of record, that disqualifies him,” Jeff Acob, a staff assistant at the Department for Veterans Affairs, said.
Hunter spoke with Mayfield about the situation, and Mayfield said she plans to file legislation making soldiers with a parent or spouse living in Kentucky at the time of death eligible for the award.
“I thought he was certainly deserving of the Medal for Freedom. I told Mr. Hunter I would do whatever I could do, because he’s certainly deserving of that award,” Mayfield said.
Hunter said he understands why his son is not currently eligible for the award, but was frustrated by the misinformation he received.
“It was clear that he grew up in Ohio. Everybody knew that,” Hunter said.
The resolution he received from the Kentucky House of Representatives makes reference to James’s graduation from an Ohio high school.
James Hunter did receive an honor similar to the Kentucky Medal for Freedom in Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio Medal of Distinction.
Hunter said his son loved Kentucky, and told his father before his deployment that, if anything happened to him, he wanted to be buried in Lexington.
“That’s how much he thought of Kentucky, even though he spent most of his life in Ohio,” Hunter said.
The next legislative session will begin Jan. 3, 2012.
“I don’t want to cause any problems,” Hunter said. “I just think my son’s entitled to it. He was special.”
Contact Rachel Parsons at email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter, @ParsonsRachel.