Family, Friends Mourn Soldier Killed In Afghanistan
Posted December 29, 2002 12:57 p.m. EST
NEW YORK — A young U.S. soldier who was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan was mourned Saturday with a 21-gun salute, tears and prayers in both Spanish and English.
Relatives, friends and soldiers gathered to grieve for 22-year-old Sgt. Steven Checo, a Fort Bragg paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, who died after being hit by gunfire Dec. 21.
A funeral Mass was held in Spanish for Checo, the child of Dominican immigrants, at a church not far from where he grew up in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.
The family moved to Elizabeth, N.J., about three years ago.
Checo's mother, Arelis Checo, sobbed as she entered the church. Tearful mourners filed into the pews around her.
Fellow soldiers carried Checo's flag-draped coffin into the service.
"Not only has he served, but he has given the ultimate sacrifice, his life, so that you and I can be free in this land of ours," the Rev. Joseph Orlandi told mourners.
After the mass, Checo was honored with a 21-gun salute at the Woodlawn Cemetery and Crematorium in the Bronx by uniformed soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division.
A bugler played taps, and Major Gen. Chuck Swannack, commander of the division, presented flags to his mother and father.
Checo's body was to be cremated.
"You don't know how proud of him we are," said his brother, Erik Checo, who described Steven Checo as "the life of the party."
As a boy, Checo was active with a Navy-based youth group in the neighborhood. Family and friends said he had always wanted to join the military.
"He was a very dedicated, faithful, servant of our nation," Swannack told reporters after the service.
Neglinson Garcia, a friend of Checo's from high school and another member of the youth group, said Checo was the "peacekeeper" among his friends.
"I'm going to miss him a lot," Garcia said.
Cardinal Edward Egan, who offered a prayer at the service, said Checo's mother and sister were taking the death especially hard but leaning on their extended family for support.
"The family is a strong, big family," Egan said as he left Mother Cabrini Church after the service.
The young paratrooper was the first U.S. combat death in Afghanistan since August and the 17th American killed in a hostile situation there since the war on terror began late last year.