Sunday, April 08, 2007

Stephen Kowalczyk laid to rest

BOULDER - Stephen Kowalczyk lived in the world.

From Hawaii, where he worked on a pineapple plantation and surfed; to Europe and Israel, where he made a grand tour on his savings; to Iraq, where, as a soldier, he befriended schoolchildren with writing tablets, pencils and chocolate bars.

In death, he was brought back to Boulder on Wednesday for his funeral.

Army Spc. Stephen Kowalczyk, 32, was killed in combat March 14 in Muqdadiyah, Iraq.

The attackers took out a man who defied being categorized by the expectations of others. He was a kind, independent, free-spirited man whose family and friends respected his decision to join the Army at age 29 for almost-certain duty in the war zone.

"He was the first one of my guys I've lost," said Capt. Chris Wooldridge, 39, Kowalczyk's first commander at Fort Hood, Texas, who is representing the unit for the funeral. "I cried. I love those Cold Steel Troop soldiers as if they were my own."

Wooldridge said Kowalczyk was "smart, mature and dedicated to the mission. He was a leader, even though he didn't have the rank of a leader."

At least 10 years older than most of the other soldiers in the unit, Kowalczyk was "like their older brother," the captain said. "There was a quiet confidence that reverberated in everything he did and said."

The lyricism of his life attracted friends of all stripes, who, with his large extended family, are expected to overfill the 350-seat sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church for the 4 p.m. service, said Michael Kowalczyk, 39, of San Geronimo, Calif., the soldier's brother.

Kowalczyk said his brother's body will be cremated and his ashes scattered off the coast of Marin County, Calif., in waters that were among his brother's favorites to surf.

Kowalczyk said his brother was the youngest of seven in a military family, linked to Boulder because their mother, Gerry Kowalczyk, and two sisters, Carolyn Lunn, and Kathryn Kowalczyk, live there. Stephen Kowalczyk also lived in Boulder from time to time after leaving college.

"We're a big family with a range of political views," Michael Kowalczyk said, explaining how his brother attended liberal Macalester College in Minnesota for two years and read The New York Times every day.

Stephen Kowalczyk also worked blue-collar jobs and traveled as a salesman for the Sky Chairs Co., a former Boulder company - now relocated to Denver - that makes hanging fabric chairs. It is owned by Robert Anderson, a member of the family, Michael Kowalczyk said.

Gerry Kowalczyk told the Rocky Mountain News earlier that her son would have joined the Israeli Army during his visit in Israel, "but they wouldn't take him because he wasn't Jewish."

"My brother was so serious about his decision to join the Army that, once he came to his conclusion, we all supported him," Michael Kowalczyk said.

The Army accommodated the Kowalczyks' wishes by delaying the return of the body until Wednesday so all the family could gather in Colorado.

Read the rest at the News

Related Link:
Stephen Kowalczyk remembered

Related Link:
Stephen M. Kowalczyk killed by small arms fire