Saturday, April 14, 2007

Daniel Fuentes remembered at wake

Outside the funeral home where his best friend, Spc. Daniel Fuentes lay in a coffin, Herberto Burgos stood with friends and recalled how he had dreamt about the 19-year-old Levittown man Wednesday night.

"I was patrolling in the streets and I had gotten shot in my back," he said of the dream, which was set in Iraq, the place where Fuentes was killed April 6 by an improvised bomb.

"Everything went black. When I opened my eyes, I saw Danny there. He was smiling. He was in full gear. He put his hand out and I knew he had my back."

Burgos, a private second-class, inspired by Fuentes, joined the Army and is due to deploy to South Korea in two weeks. "Now I want to go to Iraq for him," said Burgos. "I want to go to honor his name."

He was one of nearly 100 friends and family members who came to the Charles J. O'Shea Funeral Home in Wantagh Saturday afternoon. Inside, Fuentes lay in a gray coffin in a green Army dress suit, his gloved hands clasped around the dog tag of his friend, Christian Sanchez, who is on his second tour in Iraq.

His parents, Nancy and Armando Fuentes, sat on a couch 10 feet from the coffin. After 30 minutes, the parents walked up to their son and fell to their knees. Sobs broke the silence as they embraced. Their 7-year-old daughter, Tatyana, joined them, kneeling by the coffin, wrapping her arms around her father.

A cross circled by roses hung from the coffin's lid and a folded American flag covered the bottom half. A small sign on the cover read: "SPC Daniel Fuentes. In God's Care. April 6, 2007."

Sitting in the front row were Fuentes' grandmothers. "My first grandson," Maria Cristina Viuda de Fuentes, who came from Guatemala Wednesday, said in Spanish. "Very special," she said.

Fuentes, a member of 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry of the 4th Brigade, was killed in Iraq two months after his first .deployment.

"The days seem forever" since his death, said Nancy Fuentes, 38. "His body's here, but I feel he's still over there doing his mission."

Three easels displayed photo collages showing Fuentes in a red gown, graduating from Island Trees High School, posing in his wrestling uniform, fishing with his brother and cousin, and celebrating the end of boot camp with his fiancee, Emma McGarry, who is now four months pregnant. At the back of the room, those images, with footage of Fuentes wearing full Army gear, played on a television. His wrestling sweatshirt lay near the television screen.

On a table in the room were certificates awarded posthumously to Fuentes, including the Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal and Good Combat Medal. The Army promoted him from private to specialist April 9.

"When we saw the hearse pull into the parking lot, that was the hardest part," said Alberto Rotger, 45, Fuentes' uncle. "The most important thing is having him here ... in our presence."

A close friend, Najareet Barajas, 21, kneeled in front of the coffin with Tatiana, the 5-year-old daughter of McGarry, whom Fuentes was preparing to adopt after their wedding next year.

"Is he sleeping?" asked Tatiana. "Can he wake up?"

"He could wake up in your dreams," said Barajas. "You can go for walks with him and mom and the baby."

The wake will continue Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Fuentes' funeral will be at the O'Shea Funeral Home Monday at 10 a.m. Burial will be at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn.

From Newsday

Related Link:
Daniel A. Fuentes dies of injuries from I.E.D.