Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cristian Rojas-Gallego laid to rest

Loganville fallen soldier Cristian Rojas-Gallego was laid to rest at Melwood Cemetery in Stone Mountain Monday with full military honors.

The 24-year-old soldier was one of three members of the Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Division out of Fort Lewis, Wash. killed Aug. 2 in action in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle, according to a release by the Department. of Defense.

His body was flown into Peachtree DeKalb Airport Saturday where the casket was met by members of the Rojas family, the military, DeKalb County Police Department, a Loganville police car and members of the Patriot Guard Riders to escort the fallen soldier to Wages Funeral & Sons Home in Stone Mountain.

Loganville Mayor Tim Barron and his family were on hand Saturday and Monday, representing the soldier’s hometown.

Rojas was the second Loganville soldier — and the third from the Walton County area — to be killed in action in Iraq. Sgt. Michael Stokely, 24, died on Aug. 16, 2005, also as a result of an IED explosion in Iraq and Tyler Dickens, 20, of Monroe died April 12, 2005 when his guard tower was hit by a grenade.

Robert Stokely, father of Sgt. Michael Stokely, attended Rojas’ funeral and said it was the first military funeral he had attended since his son was buried in 2005.

“It was very difficult,” Stokely said. “Especially the 21-gun Salute. I will never be able to hear that salute again without remembering Michael’s funeral and how hard it was.”

Stokely arranged for Rojas’ widow and her family, including her three young children, to stay at the Evergreen Hotel in Stone Mountain Park. The widow was also assigned a casualty officer by the U.S. Army to take care of the family’s needs and transportation during her time in Georgia.

“Everybody has been wonderful,” 20-year-old Megan Rojas said. “There is so much support here in the South for the troops. The Patriot Guard Riders were there to show their respect on Saturday and again at the funeral.”

Rojas said she knows its going to be difficult to carry on and raise three boys without her husband but said she will be strong for them because that is what he would have wanted.

“I got to speak to him on the Web cam six hours before he was killed,” Rojas said. “And just before I got off the phone I was crying and he told me I needed to be strong and he would be home soon. I know there must be a reason. We might not know it now but everything happens for a reason.

“He died a hero. He died to make us safe.”

Rojas said her husband’s family from Loganville, including both his parents, attended the funeral. His father, who is serving time in a Georgia prison, was able to obtain a temporary release to be at his son’s funeral.

“His parents were able to see the baby and that’s the first time they’ve seen him,” Rojas said. “I think it comforted them.”

The soldier was last home in July to see his newborn son, Eric, now 10-weeks old. Rojas said she is going to re-name the baby Cristian Jose Rojas in honor of his father.

Rojas returned to Fort Lewis, Wash. Tuesday in time for a memorial service on the base today for her husband and the two soldiers who died in the attack with him, Staff Sgt. Fernando Santos, 29, of San Antonio, and Spec. Eric D. Salinas, 25, of Houston.

Read the rest at the Walton Tribune

Related Link:
Cristian Rojas-Gallego remembered

Related Link:
Cristian Rojas-Gallego dies 'of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'