Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Alex Funcheon laid to rest

U.S. Army Sgt. Alex Funcheon, who was killed April 29 while serving in Iraq, was buried Tuesday after being remembered as someone who in three years grew into a respected leader, a role model and a hero.

Karen Funcheon recalled how she and her husband, Bob, encouraged their son to join the Army three years ago.

"We knew it would mold you into a man," she said.

And it did, she said. In that time, Funcheon, 21, began to plan for a career -- he wanted to be a firefighter. He became a role model to students at Bostic Elementary School by speaking to them before he went overseas and corresponding with them via e-mail. Many of those students and their parents attended the service. And he was recently promoted to sergeant.

"He was a hero," Karen Funcheon said before the service at Central Christian Church. "We're really proud of him."

It's clear others were as well.

Before the service, more than 200 members of the Patriot Guard, which attends military funerals to provide support, lined the streets around the church holding American flags.

Cindy Maxwell, a teacher from Central Christian's school, Central Christian Academy, took her first-graders outside to see the Guard.

"I just wanted my kids to see what it's like to pay tribute to a fallen soldier," she said.

During the service, friends and loved ones shared their stories and memories of Funcheon.

And during the funeral procession to Kechi Cemetery, there were reminders of those stories along the way.

As the procession passed by a fire station in Bel Aire, firefighters stood in front of their trucks, lights flashing, to honor Funcheon. The ladder from one truck was extended and held an American flag.

The procession continued through Bel Aire. It was on those streets where Funcheon, as a child, would ride with his friends and play pranks.

Funcheon's best friend, Andrew Eldridge, shared how he, Funcheon and others frequently played "ding-dong ditch" on Bel Aire residents, ringing a doorbell and then hiding. Eldridge drew a laugh when he apologized to any people in attendance who had endured the prank.

"We didn't do it to make you mad," he said.

Eldridge remembered his friend as someone who "was always there to make people smile and enjoy life."

"Alex made me who I am today," he said, "and I will never forget him."

Later in the procession, the vehicles passed Heights High School, where several dozen students and teachers waited to honor Funcheon with a sign that read "Thank You."

When Funcheon attended Heights, he began his frequent conversations about faith with a friend, Keith Malcolm, director of the Campus Ministry Network, a faith-based group that works with young people.

"Alex's questions were not the type of questions that most sophomores in high school were asking," Malcolm said during the service. "They were much deeper. I call them 'college-level' questions."

Malcolm said his answers usually led to more questions from Funcheon. Those questions were examples of Funcheon's character -- he wanted to find the truth in things.

"Alex was always very honest with me," Malcolm said. "And that's one thing I really appreciated about him, his transparency. He would tell me about the good times and the bad times."

Pastor Tom Rozoff, of Vineyard Christian Fellowship, the church Funcheon's parents attend, said it was clear that Funcheon was beginning to move toward a closer relationship with Christ.

"I know Alex was pressing in," Rozoff said. "I know he was right there in the presence of God."

The procession came to an end at Kechi Cemetery, near 61st Street North and Hillside.

There, he was given a military gun salute. Taps was sounded.

Then, the American flag that had been draped over her son's casket was folded and presented to Karen Funcheon.

She grasped it, then pulled it close with a hug.

From the Witchita Eagle

Related Link:
Alex Funcheon remembered

Related Link:
Alexander J. Funcheon dies of injuries from I.E.D.