Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Doonewey White laid to rest

A cold breeze swept the dust up San Pedro Road in Colma. It buffed the black hearse in front of Holy Angels Church, where family and friends of Army Spc. Doonewey White waited Monday, dressed in black, backs against the wind.

Before the funeral began, before the medals were presented for the service that cost former Milpitas resident White his life last month in Iraq, the stories of a younger man swirled like the litter at their feet.

"We shared a rough childhood," said Paul Toledo, who grew up near White in San Jose after he moved from his native Philippines. "We were having trouble as teenagers; we didn't know if we'd make it, but he turned his life around."

The clutch of mourners slowly moved with the casket into the church. In the front rows, they huddled together as if the wind were still blowing Sourisone Sananikone, his fiancee from Fremont who is carrying their baby boy, due in October; White's mother and stepfather; his two brothers, Mark and Jason, a sailor who also served in Iraq. And many more, crammed cousin to cousin along the pews.

White, a gregarious 26-year-old with what friends called "a heart as big as his smile," had gone to Iraq in November with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas. Patrolling some of Baghdad's meanest streets, White seemed to have had a premonition that things might end badly.
"The last time I saw him in March, he said he thought he might not come back," said his stepfather, James Gillette, of Santa Clara. "I told him, ÔKeep your head down and your eyes open, and do whatever you have to do to survive and come home.'"

White last spoke to Sananikone on May 28, hours before a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle. They spoke of plans for a life together. He tried to calm her, assure her he would be safe. But in other phone calls he would tell her how "more of the crazy people were coming out" when he would go out on patrol.

From the altar, the Rev. Lawrence Hendel said, "We're here to give honor to a citizen, a soldier, a son."

Sananikone got up to speak. But the microphone faltered, then so did she. Hendel put his arm around the crying woman as she went to sit back down, unable to say what she had longed to share.

As they sang No. 476 from the hymnal, "Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul," the war seemed suddenly close.

"Are you crying, Daddy?" blurted a little boy in a new haircut and a tiny blue suit. Friends with camera phones captured the passing of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal to White's mother.

Later, at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, an even stronger wind stretched and snapped the American flags.

After the gun salute and the bugle call, the folding and presentation of the flag, White's loved ones approached the casket, each leaving a rose until it was covered by a blanket of red.

"I'm extremely proud of both my sons," said White's stepfather, as his younger son, Jason, left a rose on the casket. The sailor had returned just last month from Iraq, and both he and White "saw a lot of things people shouldn't ever have to see."

After a few moments, Jason returned to the casket, caressing it as he sobbed into the roses, pressing his forehead close to his brother, one last time, unable to let go.

From the Milpitas Post

Related Link:
Doonewey White dies 'of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations'