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A juvenile bald eagle in flight.

Bald Eagle Released in Smoky Mountains to Honor Fallen U.S. Marine

As summer draws to a close, we wanted to revisit one of the most moving events that took place in the Smoky Mountains this season. On July 26, 2018, the American Eagle Foundation released a juvenile bald eagle on Douglas Lake to honor Lance Corporal Jason Redifer, who was killed in action while serving in Iraq in 2005. Jason’s parents named the eagle “My Brother’s Keeper” and attended the release ceremony with a group of local veterans. Read on to learn how this fitting tribute to a fallen hero came to be.

Jason Redifer’s Story

U.S. Marines at an official event.Jason Charles Redifer joined the U.S. Marines days after graduating from Stuart Hall, a private high school in Staunton, VA that he worked three jobs to afford. Redifer was an old-fashioned patriot whose yearbook quote was John F. Kennedy’s famous adage, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” In the wake of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, Redifer believed that serving in the military would help make the world a safer place for his family.

A member of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Redifer served as a sniper in Iraq. On January 31, 2005, Redifer and two other Marines were killed when their Humvee drove over a roadside bomb south of Baghdad. Redifer was slated to leave Iraq in nine days to come home on furlough. He was only 19 years old when he died.

A Chance Encounter with Jason’s Mother

The American Eagle Foundation became aware of Jason Redifer’s story through the efforts of Gary Loucks, a technician for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Several years ago, Loucks was taking a motorcycle trip through Waynesboro, VA, when he stopped at Jake’s Bar and Grill, a restaurant owned by Jason’s mother, Rhonda Winfield. “Jake” was a nickname that Rhonda used for her son.

During his meal at Jake’s, Rhonda told Gary all about Jason’s heroic service in Iraq. Winfield and Loucks became fast friends, and Gary reached out to the American Eagle Foundation to organize a tribute to Redifer. The AEF is a non-profit organization dedicated to caring for and rehabilitating bald eagles and other birds of prey.

Watch the Eagle Release Ceremony

The eagle release was attended by Rhonda and Scott Winfield and the TN Smoky Mountain Marine Corps League, who conducted a flag folding ceremony after the playing of Taps. You can watch the beautiful ceremony in the video below:

My Brother’s Keeper, the bird released in Jason’s honor, is a juvenile eagle that was hatched from the nest of a non-releasable breeding pair at AEF Headquarters in Pigeon Forge, TN. Gary Loucks summed up the significance of the eagle release ceremony best when he said, “My Brother’s Keeper carries Jason’s memory on its back across the land he loved.”

See Challenger the Eagle in the Smoky Mountains

Did you know that America’s most famous bald eagle lives in Pigeon Forge? “Challenger” is a non-releasable bald eagle who was trained by the AEF to fly over football stadiums, baseball fields, and other venues. When you visit AEF Headquarters in the Smoky Mountains, you may have the chance to see Challenger in person. For more information, read our article about Challenger!