Illinois to hold memorial ceremony for Spc. Miguel Villalon

Aurora, Illinois, will hold a memorial ceremony next week to honor U.S. Army Spc. Miguel Villalon, the former East Aurora High School student killed earlier this month by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Villalon’s parents will bury their 21-year-old son Saturday in his family’s hometown of Brownsville. His mother, Olivia Guzman Villalon, will return to his alma mater Wednesday, for a service that will give the Aurora community a chance to pay its respects.

Mayor Richard Irvin will invite Gold Star families to attend the public service at 2 p.m. in East Aurora’s auditorium. Irvin, an Army veteran, has felt a personal connection to the young man, killed during his first deployment to the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

“I too was about the same age when I joined the U.S. Army,” Irvin said Tuesday. “I was a young kid from East High School, trying to figure life out.

“I remember the feeling of leaving home and later flying to the Middle East during the Gulf War. I remember those cold nights in the desert not knowing if I would make it to see another day. I sacrificed some. Miguel Villalon sacrificed all.”

Aurora officials have been in regular communication with Villalon’s mother since he was killed, Irvin said. She has shared stories of an “inquisitive young boy who went above and beyond to take care of his family and loved ones,” Irvin said.

His mother has expressed a desire for students in East Aurora’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp — her son’s unit — to participate in Wednesday’s service.

“Olivia looks forward to joining us in Aurora next week to personally thank the community as we celebrate her son in a memorial ceremony at the place he loved so much,” Irvin said.

Villalon and a second soldier, Staff Sgt. Ian McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia, were killed Jan. 11 when their vehicle was struck by an explosive in the southern province of Kandahar. They were assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, according to the Pentagon.

Their deaths were the first U.S. casualties of 2020 in Afghanistan. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.

During his media briefing Tuesday, Irvin held a moment of silence in tribute to Villalon, calling him an “intelligent, brave, disciplined, dedicated” young man.

“Out of respect to her and her family, we have held off on hosting a public ceremony here in Aurora until she has had time to lay her son to rest and return home,” Irvin said of Villalon’s mother. “She sincerely thanks everyone for the outpouring of love and support she has received.”

Visitation will be Friday at the Brownsville Event Center in Brownsville, Texas. Villalon’s funeral services will be held there Saturday.

Friends in Aurora have remembered Villalon as a steadying influence within their tight circle.

“He was always one of those people that I could talk to about anything,” West Aurora High School alum Marlo Guzon said last week.

By Katlyn Smith of The Daily Herald