Jonathan Forde – Sergeant, United States Army

Vienna man dies of meningitis

21 August 2007

Staff Sergeant Jonathan Forde, a Vienna, Virginia, native and combat engineer with the Virginia National Guard, died suddenly on Monday August 13, 2007, of bacterial meningitis.


Forde, 26, was at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin., training with his unit, the 237th Engineer Company, when he began complaining of feeling ill last Monday morning. By 9 p.m Central Time, Forde was on a helicopter bound for The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He died en route, with a suddenness that left his family bewildered and Fort McCoy scrambling to contain a feared meningitis outbreak.

Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the fluid that surrounds a person's spinal cord and brain. It is treatable if discovered early, but can be transmitted through the saliva and mucus of an infected person. All troops bound for Iraq are vaccinated against the disease and it is unknown how Forde contracted it, since he had been at Fort McCoy with his unit since July.

Lab tests did not confirm that Forde had meningitis until days after his death, but as soon as doctors suspected it, measures were taken to protect Fort McCoy's population.

“When you have huge volumes of people processing through, more than 6,000 people, medical concerns are always a big deal,” said Linda Fournier, of Fort McCoy's public relations department.

Twenty-seven soldiers believed to have had close contact with Forde were treated for the disease, and officials remain on the lookout for meningitis-like symptoms. As of the Times' deadline, no other cases of meningitis have been identified at Fort McCoy.

Forde's parents, Katherine Cosby and Michael Forde, were stunned by how fast the disease took their son. Forde's family was called Monday evening to tell them he was sick, and they found out late that night that he had died.

Jonathan Forde was in Wisconsin training to prepare for his second tour in Iraq, and Cosby said that while she had lived with the knowledge that her son was at risk, she didn't “expect this up in Wisconsin.”

“We loved him very much, we are all devastated,” Cosby said.

Forde was a lifelong Vienna resident who attended Flint Hill Elementary and Thoreau Middle schools. According to his stepfather, Taylor Cosby, Jonathan loved art.

“He was a gifted artist, he always did a lot of drawing,” Taylor Cosby said.

Forde also played lacrosse, and was on the varsity team at Gonzaga High School before going off to study engineering at James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University. The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took place while Forde was in college.

“One of my daughter's best friends, Mark McGinley, was killed on September 11. That played on all our minds,” Katherine Cosby said.

In Forde's case, it inspired him to join the National Guard. By December 2003, Forde was in Iraq with the 276th Engineer Battalion. Combat engineers assist troops by building bridges and integral military support structures and, in Iraq, they find and destroy improvised explosive devices.

“He was a sapper. … Jonathan did what was asked of him. He never panicked, he didn't complain,” Katherine Cosby said.

Forde returned from Iraq in 2005 and had just been reactivated to return to Iraq this July.

“He survived all that and then came back, and then he got hauled off with the National Guard again,” Taylor Cosby said.

According to Taylor Cosby, the family is in a strange state in the wake of Jonathan's death. The morning after Forde died, Forde's sister, Annabell, gave birth to a baby girl named Maggie.

“It's very emotional here right now,” Taylor Cosby said.

The family will receive friends at Money and King Funeral Home, at 171 Maple Ave. W., in Vienna on Thursday, August 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. Funeral services will be Friday, August 24, at 1 p.m. at the Fort Myer Old Post Chapel.

Forde will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, a donation can be made in his name to the Jonathan Forde Scholarship Fund, c/o Gonzaga College High School, 19 Eye St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

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