Monday, July 09, 2007

Jonathan Rossi comes home

For a moment they stood in the small chapel at Curlew Hills Funeral Home, unable to speak or move as they stared at the gray casket with silver rails containing their fallen soldier, Pfc. Jonathan Michael Rossi.

Kathleen Rossi, Jonathan's stepmother, stepped forward and knelt in front of the flag-covered casket. Michael Rossi reached out and slowly placed his hand on his firstborn's casket. Brother Jason Rossi moved forward and laid his head on the flag's stripes.

On July 1, a uniformed military officer notified Michael that his 20-year-old son had been killed fighting in Iraq. Sunday, Jonathan came home.

"It became real today, " Michael Rossi said, his eyes filling with tears. "It's been a week, but seeing his casket come off that plane - the realization just hit me."

Jonathan Rossi of Safety Harbor was killed July 1 in Baghdad. Insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire, the Department of Defense said. The 2005 Countryside High School graduate is the fifth service member from Pinellas to die in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rossi was a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, stationed in Fort Bliss, Texas. One of eight siblings and stepsiblings, he joined the Army two months after graduation.

Michael Rossi's best friend, Reginald Bazemore, is on U.S. Air Force active duty. He met Jonathan's casket at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, then traveled with it to Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base, where the plane landed, then moved beneath a water arch created by the base Fire Department.

"Today was the hardest time for the family, hands down, " said Matthew Reif, 21, Jonathan's stepbrother.

After a 30-minute military ritual performed by an honor guard, the casket was placed in a hearse. Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies escorted it to the Courtney Campbell Parkway, where it was met by Pinellas County deputies.

The caravan snaked through Rossi's hometown. Firefighters at Safety Harbor's Station 53 saluted as he passed.

The hearse was led down Curlew Road to the Curlew Hills Funeral Home, where the casket was placed underneath a crucifix. A kneeler was placed before it.

Pinellas Deputy Rafael Navarro, who spent 18 months in Afghanistan, said, "We are guiding our fallen solider home."

From the St. Petersberg Times

Related Link:
Jonathan M. Rossi dies 'of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device and small arms fire'