Graduate of Lincoln's Challenge dies from wounds received fighting in Aghanistan

RANTOUL – A Bronze Star-winning Lincoln's Challenge graduate has died after serving in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Jesse Richard Tilton, 23, of Mount Zion in Macon County, was serving with the 508th Regiment, 82nd Airborne, U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

He died July 16 in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Frankfurt, Germany, from injuries he received while taking care of a soldier during a battle in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

According to an Army news release, insurgents attacked Sgt. Tilton's unit in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, with rifle, rocket-propelled grenade and other small-arms fire.

Peter Thomas, the director of Lincoln's Challenge, called Sgt. Tilton "a scholar and a gentleman."

"He was a young man with a vision, very focused," Thomas said. "His purpose was to get through here to join the military."

Thomas said the sergeant scored extraordinarily well on his GED while at Lincoln's Challenge, earning perfect 800s on three of the five blocks of the test.

"He was also a very nice guy, friendly," Thomas added.

Sgt. Tilton served on the LeVant Guard at Lincoln's Challenge, an elite group that guards dignitaries on visits.

An airborne veteran himself, Thomas answered many of Sgt. Tilton's questions about military service.

"He wanted to learn all he could about the military; he came from a family with a military background. He was very eager to serve. I think this was his third trip over there," Thomas said.

Sgt. Tilton came home Tuesday via the Illinois Air National Guard Facility at the Decatur Airport and was taken to Dawson & Wikoff Funeral Home in Mount Zion for services.

A visitation will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Dawson & Wikoff Funeral Home, Mount Zion. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at the funeral home. Burial will be in Point Pleasant Cemetery, Long Creek, with full military honors.

Memorials may be made to Macon County Honor Guard or to Lincoln's Challenge Academy. Messages of condolence may be sent to the family at http://www.dawson-wikoff.com.

Sgt. Tilton was born Dec. 14, 1986 in Decatur, the son of Julie A. Tilton. He had attended Mount. Zion High School before Lincoln's Challenge Academy. He also attended Richland Community College, his obituary said.

His honors include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Overseas Service Ribbon, the NATO Medal and the Combat Medic Badge.

He was a member of the Long Creek United Methodist Church.

Surviving Sgt. Tilton are his mother, Julie A. Tilton-Magana, and her husband, Javier, of Long Creek.

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