NATIONAL GUARDSMAN HONORED He was 'all soldier'

Newsday - December 08, 2004

by LUIS PEREZ

A firefighter remembered him as the soft-spoken leader who freely shared know-how at Ladder Co. 61 in Co-op City. A fellow National Guardsman observed that Sgt. Christian Engeldrum gave his life for his country. A family member reflected that their son was perhaps "too patriotic."

Those were some of the thoughts at a private wake yesterday for Engeldrum, who was killed Nov. 29 during a roadside attack in Baghdad. A few hundred firefighters, family members and friends showed up at Schuyler Hill Funeral Home yesterday - a glimpse of the thousands who are expected at his funeral tomorrow.

"It makes you sad going in there," said Ann DiLoreto, a friend of the family who viewed the open casket with her husband, Ernest. "You just want to trade places."

Engeldrum, 39, a firefighter for five years, earned a citation in 2000 for rescuing two people from a fire. He was on his second stint as a soldier in the Middle East and was the first city employee to die in the Iraq war. He served as a city police officer before joining the fire department.

Engeldrum left behind his pregnant wife, Sharon, and two sons, Sean, 18, and Royce, who turned 16 on the day his father died.

"One of his family members said, 'You know, you try to instill important values in your children, and then all of this happens,'" Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said outside the Bronx chapel. "She said, 'I don't really mean this, but maybe he was too patriotic.'"

Still, Scoppetta said Engeldrum was determined to serve his country. "The guys in the firehouse were saying you could not have talked him out of it," he said. "It's what he wanted to do."

The attack killed several other soldiers, including volunteer firefighter Wilfredo Urbina, of Baldwin. Another New York firefighter, Daniel Swift, 24, of Ladder Co. 43 in Manhattan, survived the roadside attack with serious injuries to an eye and leg.

Engeldrum's commanding officer at Ladder Co. 61 recalled that one of the last times he saw him was when he stopped by the firehouse during a week's leave from training this summer.

"He was a person who was all soldier," said Lt. Brian Horton. "He believed in what he was doing, he believed in what our country stands for and he saw a need to defend it."

The wake continues today from 2 to 7 p.m. at the funeral home, 3535 E. Tremont Ave. A requiem Mass will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. at St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church, 2969 Otis Ave. in the Schuylerville section of the Bronx.

Burial will be held at 3 p.m. Friday at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.