Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Steven Walberg laid to rest

A community and family recalled and celebrated a Paradise infantryman who died in combat on April 14.

Pastor Roger Altizer of The Father's House church noted the impact of 18-year-old Pfc. Steven Walberg-Riotto on the lives he touched.

"It takes the children to teach the adults," Altizer said during Wednesday's ceremony at the Neighborhood Church in Chico.

Altizer led the ceremony, sharing his memories of the young man he used to mentor along with memories from Walberg-Riotto's family. A large crowd filled the center of the cavernous worship area.

Altizer read statements from Walberg-Riotto's parents. Mother Karen Riotto and stepfather Leonard Riotto wrote their son a message on his graduation from Chico's Pleasant Valley High School in 2006. They were proud of his courageous step to join the Army and urged him to "just do it," echoing a shoemaker's slogan.

"We'll always be here for you," they wrote.

Biological father Steve Walberg shared his love and respect for his son. He said his son had reached his goals while saving lives.

"I believed he was raised to join God's army in the fight against evil," Walberg wrote.

Walberg-Riotto enlisted in the U.S. Army under an early deferment program and entered the service just two weeks after high school. On Aug. 19, he turned 18 while at boot camp in Georgia.

In February, he was deployed to Iraq as a member of 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan.
On April 14, Walberg-Riotto was a volunteer picked to serve in a security detail for a lieutenant colonel in Baghdad, according to the family's account. He defended the unit, returning fire against an enemy sniper attack. He was successful, but was fatally wounded.

During Wednesday's ceremony, brigadier general Chris A. Ingram announced that the Army posthumously awarded Walberg-Riotto a Bronze Star and a combat infantry badge for his actions. Walberg-Riotto also received an Army commendation medal and a Purple Heart.

On an overhead screen, pictures showed Walberg-Riotto growing up while the Bette Midler song "Wind Beneath My Wings" played. There were also songs from the "Top Gun" soundtrack — which Altizer said Steven wore out three copies of.

Altizer noted Walberg-Riotto's lifelong drive to join the military. He said Steven was dedicated and feared little.

"Even the unknown, he had no fear of it," Altizer said.

Walberg-Riotto attended The Father's House for about five years. Altizer read three poems written by Walberg-Riotto that he said showed a man who lived his passion and pursued his dream.

The first notes the author was "born through pain" but sees hope. A second one discusses unity. In the third, Walberg-Riotto writes of being "the Lord's soldier," ready to accept life and to never deviate.

"I will never leave a fallen comrade," Walberg-Riotto wrote.

After the ceremony in Chico, an honor guard moved Walberg-Riotto to Skyway Memorial Park in Magalia, where he was buried with full military honors. A display of American flags along the Skyway greeted the motorcade as it made its way up the ridge. Some people on the roadside stopped and saluted the passing vehicles.

The mournful melody of "Taps" sounded on a bugle before a bagpiper performed "Amazing Grace" while the honor guard folded the American flag that had decorated Walberg-Riotto's casket.

A soldier presented a flag to Karen and Leonard Riotto while another was presented to Steve Walberg.

Later, Karen and Leonard Riotto led the family in placing single flowers on their son's silver casket before gathering a short distance away.

Uniformed personnel at the ceremony included the honor guard, soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and local police.

About 50 people from the Patriot Guard Riders also attended to pay their respects. The group was also available to screen mourning families away from political protesters, but none appeared, according to ride captain Mike Miles.

The group consists of motorcycle riders, many of whom served in the Vietnam War. He said the group was impressed by Paradise's patriotic display.

Although he didn't know Walberg-Riotto, Miles said the soldier was a hero who died saving others.

"It's clearly because of men like him that this country is free," he said.

Walberg-Riotto's aunt Tammy Riotto said the family was very appreciative of the outpouring of support from the community.

"The drive up the Skyway was breathtaking," she said.

She said Steven was a private individual, but he would have appreciated the ceremony.

"I'm sure he's enjoying this," she said.

From the Oroville Mercury Register

Related Link:
Steven J. Walberg dies from 'wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire'