The Examiner

Pleasantville Honors Fallen Serviceman 13 Years After Death

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Bert Ruiz, commander of American Legion Post 77, talks about fallen Pleasantville serviceman Jonathan Flores.
Bert Ruiz, commander of American Legion Post 77, talks about fallen Pleasantville serviceman Jonathan Flores.

A military fatality cloaked in mystery was brought to light—and honored during Pleasantville’s Memorial Day ceremony.

While only a select few knew of a Pleasantville High School graduate’s bravery before Monday, now most of a village understands the sacrifice made, even if details surrounding his death are scarce.

Jonathan Flores, a Navy man and a 1992 Pleasantville graduate, died March 24, 2000, somewhere in the Middle East. For the first time Monday, the Village of Pleasantville acknowledged his death and memorialized him along with other fallen veterans dating back to World War I.

American Legion Post 77 Commander Bert Ruiz, who learned of Flores’ death from Pleasantville resident Bob Cooney, talked to countless friends and classmates who described Flores as a “fun-loving, decent human being.”

Ruiz said the three-and-a-half page speech he delivered during the village’s Memorial Day ceremony took him six hours to write, an indication of the struggle he had to tell Flores’ story fittingly.

“The more I discovered, the more I felt bad I never knew about this,” Ruiz said. “How does somebody die in the year 2000… and how we do not recognize him?”

But Ruiz and Flores’ friend, Sean Brennan, who attended the ceremony, are glad he won’t be forgotten by his home community. Brennan even named his infant son after Flores, calling him Declan Jonathan.

Brennan, who befriended Flores in fifth grade, said for anyone who knew him it was a “remarkable day.” Flores could win anybody over and lighten up a room. The two ran track together in high school and were even roommates for a couple of years.

After high school, Flores bounced around a couple of colleges. Friends described him as a “lost soul,” Ruiz said. But joining the Navy put his life on track.

“I was really glad that it came out,” Brennan said. “I was hoping people would learn this because Jonathan was a son of Pleasantville. He grew up here. We ran the streets of Pleasantville together, the halls of the high school.”

And by Brennan naming his own son after Flores, he has already paid homage to one of his best friends.

“After he died, it was a hard time for me, so just in memory,” Brennan said. “I think of Jon every day so it was a tribute to my best friend.”

Another good friend from high school, Richard Devine, who also attended the ceremony, said he was gratified that hundreds of Pleasantville residents have now learned of Flores. Even when he went to his funeral—an invitation only ceremony—there wasn’t much insight into what happened.

“They won’t tell you anything. You know top secret is top secret,” Devine said.

Ruiz, an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam, said the Department of Defense acknowledged the date of death when he reached out to them. Not much else could be revealed. Flores’ obituary in The Journal News on April 2, 2000, stated he died from injuries resulting from a fall while in the Middle East. Ruiz isn’t completely certain how accurate that may be.

All people know at this point is Flores was in a foreign country, part of the intelligence community and on an operation when he died.

Ruiz said cases like Flores are kept top secret because if information is leaked it could threaten national security. Only 30 years after Flores’ death will the U.S. government declassify his case.

“I’m not at liberty to say what they are doing but I think if other governments found out about what we’re doing there’d be a problem,” Ruiz said. “That’s as simple as I can put it.”

And Ruiz reminds people Flores could have refused to be part of any mission, a clear example of the bravery he displayed during his service. For now, Ruiz wants to make sure that courage isn’t forgotten.

Ruiz said he plans to work with Mayor Peter Scherer to have a memorial for Flores by next year and to work with the school district to revise the stately gold banner in the high school’s auditorium to reflect the correct number of Pleasantville graduates who have died while serving.

The new number will read 31.

At some point, Ruiz also wants to reach out to Flores’ parents, to let them know how their son is being honored, even if it’s 13 years after his death.

While the mystery around Flores’ death makes his case unique, Ruiz stressed that remembering the Pleasantville native is what ultimately matters.

“There are many great Americans doing great things that they’ll never get credit for,” Ruiz said. “And all I wanted to do is speak to the fact that Pleasantville will give credit to this great American. That’s all I wanted to do. He should not be forgotten.”









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