Saturday, June 02, 2007

Steven Packer laid to rest

There were soldiers in uniform and veterans with flags. Couples sat together with their babies, and young classmates formed small groups around a proud, grieving family.

At the front of the church was the flag-draped coffin of the 23-year-old soldier who died for them all.

Army Sgt. Steven Packer was killed May 17 while serving a third tour in Iraq. At his funeral on Tuesday, Packer was remembered for his smile, his love for his fiancée and his family, and for his unwavering commitment to his country and the military.

"He was always concerned with doing things right," said Pastor Dean Rutherford of Northside Christian Church in Clovis. "He was proud to serve, and looking forward to coming back home to pursue his dreams."

One of Packer's dreams was to marry his fiancée, Stacy Xiong. During the services, Barry Johnson, Packer's cousin, read from an e-mail that soldiers still serving in Iraq sent Xiong on May 20.

"I want you to know that every one of us on the ground that day did everything possible to save Steven," wrote Sgt. Justin Puchalsky. "I don't know what to do without him, I sit and stare at his bunk and sob into my hands. ... Everyone here feels your loss. ... It will never be the same without him."

Puchalsky, who served in the same platoon with Packer, said he and his fellow soldiers would always consider Xiong and the rest of Packer's relatives to be family.

"We'd walk through hell and back without asking why if you wished it because Steven would have done the same for us," Puchalsky wrote.

Saturday, as she prepared for her son's funeral, Robin Davidson said she was learning more about her son as letters such as Puchalsky's continued to pour in.

"He was a thoughtful young man, both in how he acted, and his decision-making," Davidson said. "I don't know how to deal with his loss yet. It just doesn't feel like it's real."

In Fresno on Tuesday, photos of Packer greeted mourners as they entered the church. One labeled "through the years" showed school photos of Packer from first through sixth grade, with his senior portrait placed in the middle. He was a 2002 graduate of Clovis High School. By the time his senior photo was taken, family members said, Packer had already decided to join the military.

"He signed up for the Army while he was still in school. He was touched by what happened on 9/11," Davidson said. "The rest of us were in disbelief, but Steven was touched and wanted to do something."

Her son joined the Army expecting to fight in Afghanistan, but instead served three tours in Iraq.

"He was there for six months when the war started, then went back for a year, and was supposed to be there 15 months this time," Davidson said. "It seems like he was gone for the entire five years he was in the Army."

During the services, military officials presented Davidson with both a Purple Heart and Bronze Medal that Packer earned for his service in Iraq.

As Rutherford prayed before the funeral procession moved to the cemetery, he talked of the sacrifice Packer had made.

"Dear God, it grabs us that somebody died for us," Rutherford said. "It reminds us so much of you."

At Fresno Memorial Gardens, Davidson stood with her son's dog tags around her neck as a 21-gun salute was fired and taps was played by an honor guard bugler. She stood as a military officer presented her with a U.S. flag, and as her son's casket was lowered into his grave.

After the ceremony, Guy Adams, a longtime friend of the Davidson family, said he hoped the community would now stand with Robin and her family in the days to come.

"It's good for these families to be surrounded by people who care," Adams said. "Too many times people show up for the funeral and pay their respects, and then forget about the family that is left behind. They forget that the family will be struggling, and will need support."

From the Fresno Bee

Related Link:
Steven M. Packer dies 'of wounds suffered when his dismounted patrol encountered an improvised explosive device'