Father, brother remember John Isenhour as Marines, law enforcement turn out for his funeral

Published 12:10 am Saturday, October 8, 2016

By Shavonne Walker and Mark Wineka


SALISBURY — Several hundred law enforcement officers and Marines watched Thursday afternoon as a caisson drawn by four black horses carried the casket of John Thomas Isenhour up a hill at Salisbury National Cemetery.

“I did not expect to be that emotional,” John’s father, Tom, said of the scene.

The lowering and folding of U.S. flags, the 21-gun salute, a eulogy from one of John’s Marine buddies, the reading of a letter from another Marine, the horses, the playing of “Taps” — “there was nothing left out,” Tom Isenhour said.

“It was pretty big.”

On Sept. 18, while directing traffic on N.C. 158 outside the entrance to Tanglewood Park, John Isenhour was struck by a car and thrown into the air.

His body hit the car’s windshield before becoming airborne again and striking the rear window. A deputy for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office since October 2015, Isenhour was taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center with a broken neck, ribs, both legs, pelvis and facial bones.

Tom Isenhour, who lives in Salisbury, saw his son twice over the next 10 days at the hospital’s trauma center. John’s twin brother, Robert, visited him three times before John died Sept. 28, not long after coming off life support.

Tom Isenhour said his 38-year-old son probably stayed alive longer than most men could have.

“He was strong, he was a Marine, he was fighting it,” Tom Isenhour said. “… I couldn’t be prouder of him and what he accomplished in his lifetime. He sought out goals — and he did them.”

John Isenhour’s 17 years in the Marine Corps prior to his retiring and joining the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office had included three different tours in the Middle East.

When your son is serving in war zones, Isenhour said, you condition yourself as a father to realize you could someday be getting a call from Washington or hearing a knock on the door from a military official delivering terrible news.

The irony here was that John lost his life after being hit by a 92-year-old driver with several restrictions on her license. And he was directing traffic related to a charity event — the Bike MS: Tour to Tanglewood.

“There’s no way of preventing it,” Tom Isenhour said of how things just happen.

John Isenhour had been in communications with the Marines and before leaving on some assignments, he would confess to his dad, “I can’t tell you where I’m going.”

He ended up as a gunnery sergeant training new recruits at Camp Pendleton. As the Marines were reducing their forces, John had the option of transferring to the Army and serving out his remaining two-and-a-half years to reach the 20-year mark.

But again, Tom said, he was all Marine and decided to take the military equivalent of a buyout or severance package.

John Isenhour attended Faith Elementary and Knox Middle School before he and Robert enrolled at Riverside Military Academy in Georgia together. Robert eventually transferred to Fishburne Military School in Virginia, but John seemed to flourish at Riverside, where he wrestled and played baseball and football.

Robert Isenhour said his brother was quiet, caring and a “genuine soul.”

As youngsters, the boys traveled to a lot of shows with their musician father Tom, a top mandolin player who plays today with the New High Country Boys.

Robert stuck with the music, but John gave it up after awhile. His dad thinks it came with the frustration of being left-handed and trying to adapt to a right-handed style of playing.

But he said John was always a “hard-working, determined guy that kept his nose clean, searched things out and did things to the fullest of his ability.”

“He never did any harm to anyone,” Robert said of his brother.

Robert Isenhour said John still stayed in contact with the Marines who had served with him and under him.

John Isenhour had recently spoken with a Marine who was having a tough time, so John invited him to come to North Carolina and he’d help him anyway he could. The Marine traveled here from California the Saturday before John’s accident, and Tom Isenhour spoke to him and many other Marine buddies at Thursday’s funeral.

Robert said his brother was a “jarhead all the way — even to the haircut.”

John participated in the delayed entry program between his junior and senior year at Riverside and went right into the Marines upon graduating. He received his first assignment with the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.

John would later go onto to serve tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Okinawa, Japan.

“He was happy to be somewhere different,” Robert said.

John loved his blended family, Robert said.

The brothers spent a lot of time together growing up and became even closer after their parents split. Both Tom and Robert Isenhour mentioned John’s love for video games, especially his mastery on Wii.

Tom said his son also loved the outdoors, especially fishing and camping.

“I just hope people remember him as the good person that he was,” Robert said. “He had a lot of good lifelong friends who he made a point to keep in touch with.”

Even though the Isenhour brothers did not graduate from Salisbury schools, the two were invited by the graduating class from Salisbury High to participate in their regular reunions.

Gov. Pat McCrory asked that all flags on state buildings be flown at half-staff through sunset Thursday. The town of Lewisville flew its flag at half-staff.

A GoFundMe site for the family raised more than $29,000.

At Thursday’s graveside service at Salisbury National Cemetery, one of John’s teachers from Riverside Military Academy attended with several of his current students.

The teacher gave Tom an honorary father’s coin and a hardbound book related to the “blue lives” connected to Riverside.

John Isenhour had been living in Cooleemee with his family.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253, or Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.