The Journal News - December 08, 2004by BILL HUGHES
NEW YORK A cold, steady rain fell yesterday as relatives, friends, fellow firefighters and soldiers filed into a Bronx funeral home to pay their respects at the wake of Christian Philip Engeldrum, the Army National Guard sergeant killed in Iraq along with another firefighter last week when a roadside bomb exploded underneath the vehicle they were traveling in.
Engeldrum is a Gulf War veteran, former New York City police officer and father of two teenage boys. His wife is expecting the couple's third child. He was the first city employee to die in the Iraq invasion. Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that state legislators had passed a measure declaring his death a line-of-duty incident, which entitles his family to a full complement of death benefits.
"In many ways, it's just like he gave his life saving New Yorkers because he was over there not only protecting the citizens of New York but the citizens of the entire country," said Stephen Cassidy, president of the firefighters union, as he left the wake.
"He represents the best that the country has to offer and the best that New York City has to offer a true hero in every sense of the word."
Engeldrum, a Bronx firefighter, was one of five National Guardsmen from New York in an armored Humvee that was blown to pieces outside Baghdad on Nov. 29.
A volunteer firefighter from Long Island, Wilfredo Urbina, was also killed in the blast, and another New York City firefighter, Daniel Swift, was injured. Felix Vargas, an aspiring New York City police officer, was also injured.
Swift, a Yonkers resident who was joined by relatives yesterday at Fort Hood, Texas, was granted special clearance from the military so he could fly to New York for Engeldrum's funeral tomorrow.
Despite his injuries, Army officials granted him a four-day leave and even agreed to help pay for the trip after Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton sought intervention from the Army Congressional Liaison Office.
Yesterday, firefighters in dress uniforms sporting patches from firehouses all over the five boroughs and other uniformed personnel from out of state mixed in line with firefighters in their work gear outside the Schuyler Hill Funeral Home in the Tremont section of the Bronx.
Sgt. Baliran Sidoo, a National Guardsman with the 69th Infantry, said he came to the wake having never met Engeldrum, but having been touched by stories about his family's loss.
"I didn't know him personally, but as a fellow soldier, we are all a band of brothers and I felt I had an obligation to be here today," Sidoo said.
Wake services are expected to resume today at the funeral home at 3535 E. Tremont Ave. from 2 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.
Several thousand firefighters are expected to attend a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Church of St. Benedict's, 2969 Otis Ave., the Bronx.
On Friday, Engeldrum's body will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery after a 3 p.m. ceremony.
Staff writer Shawn Cohen contributed to this report