Saturday, June 24, 2006

Army Staff Sgt. Joseph F. Fuerst III

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Joseph F. Fuerst III, 26, of Tampa, Fla.

SSgt Fuerst was assigned to 53rd Infantry Brigade, Florida Army National Guard, Pinellas Park, Fla.; killed June 24, 2006 when his Humvee came in contact with enemy forces using rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire during combat operations in Panjway, Afghanistan.

TAMPA - Staff Sgt. Joseph Frederick Fuerst III called Chuck Paulk with a problem just days before his wedding.

"I don't know how to dance," he told Paulk, 53, of Tampa.

Paulk spent the three days before the ceremony teaching Fuerst and his soon-to-be-bride the two-step.

"I kept telling him to look at my eyes and not my shoes," Paulk said. "It was hard for him to do with his arms around me."

The newlyweds didn't miss a beat during their first dance, he said.

Thursday morning it was the movement of soldiers' marching feet that captured Paulk's attention, as they carried Fuerst's casket at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in South Tampa.

The 26-year-old died June 24 of injuries from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire in an attack on his Humvee in Afghanistan's Panjway District. He would have celebrated a birthday in two weeks.

Fuerst's was the first of three funerals planned for Tampa soldiers who died within a week while fighting in Mideast wars. Army Cpl. Aaron Griner, who grew up in Brandon, died June 28 in the deserts of Afghanistan. He was 24. Army Sgt. Bryan Luckey, 25, of Tampa, died June 29 in Iraq.

"I want the families to know how much this community appreciates the service of their sons and the sacrifices," said Mayor Pam Iorio, who attended the Mass.

Fuerst and his wife Tara, 22, were both deployed to Afghanistan last summer as part of the Florida Guard's 53rd Infantry Brigade. They married in March 2005. She was in Afghanistan when news came of her husband's death.

Hundreds of mourners filled the pews in the sunlit church Thursday, and a hush settled on the crowd as the soldier's family entered the foyer, accompanied by the flag-draped coffin and a uniformed escort.

With military precision, the troops lifted and folded the American flag, and the family draped the coffin with a Catholic ceremonial funeral cloth.

Tears began to fall as Father Desmond Daly sprinkled holy water on the casket. The mourners sang How Great Thou Art as a Boy Scout troop led the processional into the church.

Addressing the gathered family and friends, Daly said Fuerst served as an altar boy at Christ the King when he was younger. He joked that the church had records of all the trouble Fuerst got into as a child.

"This is not any longer a man of faith," Daly said of Fuerst during his homily. "Now he sees with a view that is perfectly clear. He sees it all in perspective. We don't."

Sgt. Jorge Pozo served with Fuerst in Afghanistan. He broke his right leg in the same firefight that ended Fuerst's life, he said.

He was carrying a fallen soldier out of a kill zone when he broke his leg, but kept running to get to safety, making the injury worse. He attended Fuerst's funeral on crutches.

"He loved his wife, and he loved what he was doing," Pozo said.

Fuerst joined the Army in 1998, after graduating from H.B. Plant High School. Paulk, the man who taught Fuerst to dance for his wedding, met him when Fuerst was a junior. Fuerst had gone to Paulk's home to cut his lawn. From that grew their friendship.

They last spoke two months ago during an hourlong telephone conversation. Fuerst talked about the war, how frequently he saw his wife and joked about how Paulk could send him a bottle of Jack Daniel's whiskey without anyone noticing.

"He was a pretty simple guy," Paulk said. "You could always count on him to show up and buy the next round of drinks. Just showing up is what it's all about. He would do just that."

Fuerst and his wife had bought an acre of land in Brooksville where they planned to settle down and have children after he got out of the military in October, Paulk said. A police academy graduate, Fuerst had started applying for jobs as an officer.

"I don't look at this as a loss," Paulk said. "The 26 years he was here, it was a gift."

Before soldiers ushered the family outside as a soloist sang God Bless America, the priest placed his hands on Fuerst's casket for one final blessing.

"Joseph," Daly said. "May the angels lead you into paradise."

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Carmen Maldonado
Florida National Guard Public Affairs

BUSHNELL, Fla. (July 6) - More than 200 friends, relatives, and fellow Soldiers from the Florida National Guard gathered at the Florida National Cemetery here to pay their respects to Staff Sgt. Joseph F. Fuerst III, who was laid to rest today.

Fuerst died on June 24 of injuries sustained from enemy fire during combat operations in the Panjwayi, Afghanistan area.

"When he was an infant, he came to this church. As a young man he served at the altar, very faithfully. There was not a bad bone in his body. He thought well of everyone," said Desmond Daly, pastor of the church, during his sermon.

After the service, attendees traveled to Bushnell for the burial ceremony, where Fuerst's wife, Tara, received three medals that were posthumously awarded to her husband: the Bronze Star with V (valor) device for his brave and heroic actions against an armed enemy, the Purple Heart, for wounds received in action, and the Florida Cross for exceptionally meritorious service to the National Guard and the State.

Several motorcycle riders attended both services, and silently stood along the sidewalks leading to the events with large American flags, solemnly showing their support and respect to the fallen Soldier and his family. At the Tampa memorial service, Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett, The Adjutant General of the Florida National Guard, thanked them for their service and support, and expressed his appreciation for their presence.

Staff Sgt. Fuerst was fatally wounded by small arms fire while he was on a mission in support of Operation Mountain Thrust. He had been training Afghan National Army soldiers and was leading a small group of soldiers as part of the operation when he was killed.

A Florida native and resident of Tampa, Staff Sgt. Fuerst is survived by his wife, a sergeant in the Florida National Guard who was also deployed with the unit to Afghanistan .

He had completed the Police Academy and was planning to continue his service to others after concluding his military assignment.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time," stated an email from the 53rd Infantry Brigade staff still serving in Afghanistan. "From his brothers in arms, we will always be here when needed. Joe has impacted all of us in a certain way and will never be forgotten."

Army Staff Sgt. Joseph F. Fuerst III was killed in action on 6/24/06.


Tara Fuerst said...

The correct date he was killed in action is 24 June 2006. Also, he was not in a humvee when he was killed, he was in a firefight in which he was shot with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). The blurb in the beginning about the actions is incorrect, as well as the date. Thank you for posting a blog though in his memory - if those errors could be corrected I would greatly appreciate it.


Tara Fuerst

Becky Fuerst-Paterniti said...

It has been almost 4 years Baby Boy, but we still miss you everyday! I promise you will never be forgotten! Always and Forever!

Carmen Gloria said...

I remember this...sad day for me being surrounded by so many people mourning the loss of this Soldier. I wrote the second story here. Sorry for your loss. Hope you're all doing well. Blessings <3