Saturday, July 07, 2007

Andre Craig laid to rest

Dignitaries from around the state gathered at the Immanuel Baptist Church Friday morning to mourn a hometown hero killed in Iraq.

Andre "Dre" Craig Jr., 24, of New Haven, an Army private first class, died when his convoy was struck by an improvised explosive device as it patrolled Baghdad the morning of June 25.

His mother, Joyce Craig, and wife, Shawntia, and baby daughter, Taylor, 5 months old, were joined by about 400 people at the church at 1324 Chapel St. for a wake and memorial service.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz came to pay their respects to the broken-hearted family.

"He was one of the best. He stayed out of trouble and he took care of his family. That shows a lot of love," said Mike Newman, 27, Craig’s stepbrother.

"It was a beautiful funeral to honor a fallen comrade," said the Rev. Anthony Brown of Hamden, also an Army veteran who said he served from 1977 to 1980.

Rell declared Friday an official day of mourning for Craig with flags lowered to half-staff.

"Craig will always be remembered for having given his life to preserve freedom and offer the benefits of democracy to the world. His acts of courage reflected the highest standards of a hero. Everyone who met, worked with or fought along-side Pfc. Craig was a better person for having known him," she said in a statement.

"I was shocked to see the governor," Newman said, and nodding toward the bikers guarding the church, added, "All these veterans out there — that’s a lot of love."

More than 80 bikers from the Patriot Guard Riders filed around the church to shield the family from any possible protesters who came to heckle. Many in the file wore black leather and bandannas, some waved American flags.

John Scanlon, a biker from Newington, said he counted 42 deaths of Connecticut natives in the Iraq conflict so far, and has been to quite a few funerals.

"It is depressing, but it is also very healing. When you talk to the family ... when you talk to the family and they see their (loved one) treated with the utmost respect," Scanlon said.

Craig also will be honored by his hometown.

The Board of Aldermen Monday will pass a resolution "recognizing and paying tribute to" Craig and extending sympathy to his family.

"It is fitting to pay tribute to this fallen soldier who paid the ultimate price and made the greatest sacrifice to secure the freedoms for the citizens of our nation," the resolution says.

Dwight neighborhood residents gathered in the leafy square opposite the church on Chapel Street. Many were saddened as if they had lost one of their own.

"Is Bush inside the church? The president should be inside saying something to the family," said Christine Oliver, 51, as she rested outside the church.

Emerson Stevens, of New Haven, who is close to the Craig family, said they deeply appreciated the community’s show of support. "It was excellent of the government officials and to the motorcyclists in particular."

Stevens said the Craig family was presented with a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and several other military medals during the service.

The Bronze Star is awarded for heroism or meritorious service in combat. The Purple Heart is awarded to those who have been wounded or killed.

"Where is Bush? Where is the president," said Brown after the service. "How many of our youth have to die in Iraq before Bush and Cheney are satisfied? How many have to die before they pull out the troops." Brown also criticized U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman for repeatedly voting to support and fund the war and not personally attending the funeral.

Craig’s relatives defended his decision to serve despite the danger.

Stevens said that military service had been Craig’s dream since childhood.

"If people are going to bomb our country, why don’t we go there and fight instead of sitting home and doing nothing?" he said. But Newman said he was inspired by Craig’s dedication.

"He had the chance to play basketball for Rutgers — he turned it down to go to the Army. I was with Andre the day he signed up with the Army. What’s crazy is I just signed up, too," Newman said.

Stevens said Craig hoped the military would help cover his college costs when he finished his service.

When services for Craig ended, members of the Connecticut Honor Guard carried out the white coffin, draped in an American flag, They marched with slow stiff steps and gently pushed the casket into the hearse.

They marched away slowly.

A police escort led the way to the Connecticut State Veterans’ Cemetery in Middletown, a field of matching white stones tucked amid the rolling hills blossoming in tiger lilies and Queen Anne’s lace.

Craig, who graduated from Wilbur Cross High School, was part of Company Bravo, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infrantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division.

From the New Haven Register

Related Link:
Andre Craig remembered

Related Link:
Andre Craig Jr. dies 'of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device'