FAREWELL TO A FALLEN HERO

Newsday - December 10, 2004

Thousands line streets in Bronx to honor city firefighter killed in Iraq; son calls dad in eulogy 'greatest man I’ll ever know’

BY DEBORAH S. MORRIS
STAFF WRITER

Thousands of men and women in uniform lined the streets of Throgs Neck yesterday in remembrance of and homage to National Guard Sgt. Christian Engeldrum, the firefighter who was the first city employee to die in the Iraq war.

The funeral at St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church resonated with the pomp and circumstance due a war hero while reflecting the tragedy of a family man dead at 39, leaving behind a pregnant widow and two teenage sons.

Active and retired firefighters, members of the National Guard and armed services, dignitaries and a wrenchingly poignant comrade in battle - the wounded firefighter and Army National Guard medic Daniel Swift- lined Otis Avenue before and after the three-hour funeral.

"My dad is the greatest man I'll ever know," Engeldrum's 18-year-old son Sean said in his eulogy. "I only hope to be half the man he was, brave and strong."

Engeldrum was killed Nov. 29 when his vehicle, with Company B of the First Battalion, 105th Infantry, came under attack outside Baghdad. He had worked in the Fire Department for five years, assigned to Ladder Company 61 in the Co-op City section of the Bronx. He also had worked in the Police Department.

In addition to Sean, he is survived by his wife, Sharon, and son Royce, who turned 16 the day his father died.

The service began after the funeral cortege, including Engeldrum's motorcycle and the truck from Ladder Company 61, made the journey from Schuyler Hill Funeral Home, passed Engine Company 72 and the Engeldrum home, and paused for a wreath-laying at War Memorial Park before arriving at the church.

Swift - on crutches and wearing his FDNY dress blues, with a bandage over his right eye - was among those awaiting the flag-draped coffin. Swift, injured in the same attack in which Engeldrum was killed, was escorted up the church steps by fellow firefighters.

"Your courage and bravery inspire us all," Michael Schiraldi, a colleague from Engeldrum's firehouse, said in his eulogy. "You are the true definition of a hero and a great friend."

Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attended the funeral.

Sean Engeldrum, in his remarks, described his father as loving and supportive, always willing to talk and play with him and his brother.

He lamented that his unborn sibling never will know that special presence or companionship.

"I hope that you will help give my sibling the faintest idea of what they are missing out on," he said to the mourners, and the hundreds rose to their feet, applauding.

After the funeral, members of the National Guard carried the coffin from the church and placed it gently on a metal gurney. Members of Engeldrum's firehouse hoisted the coffin back onto the fire truck as a bugler played "Taps." A single police helicopter flew overhead.

Engeldrum is to be buried today at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

"He was a great guy and gave great service to the city, his family and this country," said Firefighter Tom Maloney of Ladder Company 61. "He was our friend. This is like losing your brother."