Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hundreds Salute Soldier Who Was an MVP to All

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Hundreds Salute Soldier Who Was an MVP to All

Article excerpt

He was the MVP of the family's Super Bowl games -- a superb athlete who played multiple sports, hoped for a pro baseball career and adored his younger brother and sister.

Those were some of the recollections from relatives, friends and classmates who gathered in Kinnelon on Sunday to remember Jonathan Batista, the 22-year-old decorated Army paratrooper killed a week earlier on his first deployment to Afghanistan.

Batista grew up in Rutherford. His family moved to Kinnelon three years ago.

On Sunday, hundreds of people from across North Jersey, many clutching small American flags, lined Kinnelon Road to pay their respects to Batista and his family.

Under an alternating sunny and cloudy sky, the crowd stood two deep as a cool breeze washed over the tall oak and evergreen trees that nearly smother narrow Kinnelon Road.

Then there was a murmur, and heads turned to the right, focusing on the flickering red lights of a police motorcycle escort.

The crowd, in unison, moved off the shoulder of Kinnelon Road and inched closer to the roadway as the gray and black hearse carrying Batista's casket came into view.

As the procession made its way under giant American flags dangling from the aerial ladders of fire trucks, civilians held their hands over their hearts and soldiers in camouflage and members of the Nam Knights Motorcycle club saluted.

Later, outside the gray chapel of Our Lady of the Magnificat R.C. Church, all gathered to remember a soldier who showed so much promise.

"We had a lot of high hopes for him," said Alex Rosa, 37, a cousin from Staten Island. "He was always a good kid. It's just sad he's not here. He always wanted to play pro baseball."

Rosa recalled family Super Bowl games, played before the real Super Bowl. Batista was on the side that always won.

"He would always win the MVP," Rosa said.

Ibai Lopez, 25, of Rutherford, a close friend, said Batista called him one day and asked when they were going to go sky diving. "It was the last time I talked to him," said Lopez, who wasn't too keen on the idea but was game.

"Dude, I'm afraid of heights, but I'll do it anyway," Lopez said he told Batista.

Ryan Gentry, 23, of Rutherford, a 2007 classmate, broke into a wide grin at the mention of a blurb in the Rutherford High School yearbook describing Batista as a "man with a thousand names. …

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