Overnight: The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, along with first responders and veterans, escorted the remains of Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Richard Clement home to Vero Beach on Wednesday night.
There will be a visitation and viewing at Strunk Funeral Home in Vero Beach Friday and a memorial service Saturday at the Community Church of Vero Beach.
VERO BEACH — As a retired Air Force colonel, Marty Zickert has experienced the loss of fellow service members many times in his career. But nothing hurts more than when the loss strikes close to home, and when it’s someone whose life is cut short in a senseless accident, he said.
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Richard Clement, or Jon to his friends and family in Vero Beach, died July 31 after an accident at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, California.
Clement, a 2006 graduate of Vero Beach High School, suffered severe head injuries when an auxiliary fuel tank on a HH-60H Sea Hawk helicopter disengaged during training, striking him and a fellow Navy member July 30.
Both helicopter crew members were assigned to the elite “Firehawks” of North Island-based Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85. The Navy did not identify the second injured sailor but said he suffered minor injuries.
“Jon is a hometown hero,” said Zickert, who works with the Veteran’s Council of Indian River County.
He said the Veteran’s Council is supporting the Clement family, and he and other veterans spent several hours with the family. Zickert urged all local military to turn out for Clement’s funeral, which takes place this weekend in Vero Beach.
Clement’s remains will arrive at the Orlando Melbourne International Airport on Wednesday at about 10:30 p.m., and will be greeted by family and fellow service members and veterans. He will be escorted to the Indian River County line by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, where Indian River deputies and first responders and veterans will escort the remains to Strunk Funeral Home in Vero Beach.
Naval Air Forces spokesman Ron Flanders told a San Diego television station the entire North Island community is grieving. He also said an extensive investigation into the deadly accident is underway.
The training involved quickly refueling the helicopter without shutting down the engine and is referred to as “hot pit, hot seat training,” according to the Navy.
Clement moved to Vero Beach with his family in 2000. He attended Gifford Middle School, where he played soccer, ran track and played youth baseball. At Vero Beach High, he played baseball his freshman and sophomore years and football his freshman, sophomore and junior years.
After graduating Vero Beach High School, Clement worked construction for The Hill Group of Vero Beach, and later as an apprentice for Piper Aircraft Co.
He joined the Navy, enlisting in June, 2007. From 2009 to 2014, he was deployed twice for nine months aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, which primarily refers to the War in Afghanistan, but also is affiliated with counter-terrorism operations in other countries.
His third deployment was aboard the USS Washington, flying a Sea Hawk helicopter on humanitarian relief missions in the Philippines, rescuing survivors, delivering food, water and materials following Typhoon Halyan in 2013, which devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines.
Most recently, Clement was a NATOPS (Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization) leading petty officer, providing dedicated rotary wing support to U.S. Special Operations Command. A leading petty officer is the chief petty officer’s go-to person for the lead of the division and to help with administrative tasks.
One of Clement’s most recent passions was his work with the Special Liberty Project’s Gold Star Corps Mentoring Program, sharing his love for archery by volunteering his time teaching and mentoring children of fallen service members.
The program has set up a GoFundMe page to continue Clement’s work, said organizer Jessica Merritt.
With his “larger than life personality, he was always brightening everyone’s day with his positive attitude and quick-witted comedy,” she wrote on the page wall.
Clement’s parents, Chris and Laura, of Vero Beach, were with their son when he passed away, according to the Navy spokesman.
In addition to his parents, he is survived by his brother Chris Clement (Stephanie), of Vero Beach; brother Matthew Clement, of Clarkesville, Tennessee; and sister Rebecca Clement, of Imperial Beach, California. His grandparents, Al and Jeanne Elias, of Vero Beach; grandmother Joan Goddard, of Manassas Park, Virginia; two nieces; nine aunts; 10 uncles; and 44 first cousins also survive.
- A family and Navy friends visitation/viewing will be 4:30 to 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at Strunk Funeral Home, 916 17th St., Vero Beach. A public visitation/viewing follows from 6 to 8 p.m.
- A memorial service is 10 a.m. Aug. 18 at the Community Church of Vero Beach, 1901 23rd St. A graveside burial with military honors will begin at 11:30 a.m. at Crestlawn Cemetery, 1216 14th Ave., Vero Beach.
- In lieu of flowers, donations to a GoFundMe account in Jon’s memory can be made at www.gofundme.com/jon-clement