Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Branden Cummings laid to rest

COCOA - Army Pfc. Branden Charles Cummings was remembered as a soldier who was proud to serve his country and as a jokester who loved to make his friends laugh.

"What a life, what a life that has been lived by this man," the Rev. Joe Robinson said in his eulogy Tuesday before hundreds of Cummings' friends, family members and comrades in arms, and several total strangers, who packed into Brevard Memorial Funeral Home. "We had a young man who stood up and said, 'I'll go.' This young man, and so many others around the world, are doing great things."

Close to 1,000 people, some standing in different rooms and others near the entrance after the chapel quickly filled, attended 10 a.m. funeral services for Cummings, who was killed Feb. 14 in a roadside bombing in Baqouba, Iraq. The 20-year-old Army private from Titusville was the 10th service member from Brevard County or with close family ties here to die in the Iraq war.

Cummings had been serving in Iraq since October and had returned to war in January after a two-week break at home for Christmas. He served in the Army with the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Texas. He completed his basic training at Fort Hood in February 2006.

Eager to learn

Those who served alongside Cummings in Iraq said he was eager to learn everything about being a soldier.

"Every time there was any kind of information being put out, he'd lock onto every word," Army Spc. Jason Deteso told the assembled. "He was an outstanding soldier. He wore the title of infantryman with pride."

But there was a lighter side.

Cummings would do anything to make others laugh, said his uncle, Don Cummings, who referred to a slide show featuring the soldier that preceded the funeral.

"There were 90 pictures in the slide show. In 89 of them, he was smiling," Cummings said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "In the other, he was sticking his tongue out."


Outside the funeral home, about 200 veterans of all ages held American flags as they lined the entrance and parking lot. More than 120 Patriot Guard Riders from across the state and as far away as Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Michigan rode their motorcycles at the head of the funeral procession.

"We came to honor our hero," said Bobbie Bilotta, Florida state captain of the Patriot Guard Riders. "They've made the ultimate sacrifice for us. It's the least we can do for them and their families."

Dozens of corrections officers -- former colleagues of Cummings' father, Charles, a former state corrections officer in Orange County -- were scattered throughout the crowd, dressed in their brown and beige uniforms. Some served as pallbearers.

Small American flags lined every roadway through Brevard Memorial Park as the funeral proceeded with military honors, including the 21-gun volley and a rendition of "Taps" that pierced the graveside silence. Army honor guards folded the American flag over Cummings' casket.

Folded flags

Brig. Gen. James Nixon of Special Operations Command presented folded flags to Cummings' father, his mother, Melbaline, and his fiancée, Danielle Dennull.

After they completed duties as pallbearers, the corrections officers took off their white gloves and the red roses pinned to their shirts, and each placed his glove under the rose and put both on Cummings' casket.

Corrections officer Joey Morris added one other thing to his offering: his prized baseball glove.

"Me and Branden always played catch," he said after the ceremony. "He always wanted that glove and I would never give it to him. I left it for him."

And for them, Cummings left memories.

"Branden was my brother," close friend Daniel Jarolim told the crowd in the chapel. "At least he was the closest thing to a brother I ever had. Branden died a hero. Branden, you're my hero and I love you."

From Florida Today

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