- COMMUNITY LINKS
*This article is a special internet edition*
Ken VanGiesen would be proud of his Kane community for the patriotism shown Thursday during his funeral procession from Kane Area High School to his final resting place at the Gibbs Hill Cemetery near Ludlow.
Along the entire route, children and adults waved American flags and held signs to salute their hero, who was killed earlier this month while serving in Afghanistan with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Some along the 10-mile route even placed the palm of their right hand against their chest as the procession passed by for the private burial ceremony.
Before the cortege left the school, a huge crowd jammed into the auditorium for a funeral service led by the Rev. Chad Troup, who has been the pastor of the First Church of God along North Fraley Street in Kane for about two years.
And before the 40-minute funeral service, hundreds of Kane area residents and uniformed soldiers from various units waited in long lines in the school hallways for a chance to pay their respects. With school parking lots full, many had to park along Route 321.
VanGiesen's closed casket was placed front and center near the auditorium stage. The family greeted the visitors as they passed by the flag-draped casket. National Guard soldiers from the Kane unit served as the honor guard on both ends of the casket for their friend and comrade.
Staff Sgt. VanGiesen, who would have observed his 31st birthday next Wednesday, is the son of Tom and Sue VanGiesen of 137 Lincoln St., Kane. Since 1997, VanGiesen has been together with his longtime girlfriend, Erin Sirianni, also of Kane. The couple lived together in the house they own in Mill Creek Township near Erie.
Major General Wesley Craig, who as adjutant general is the overall leader of the entire Pennsylvania National Guard, was among the many military dignitaries at the visitation, funeral service and private burial ceremony.
Craig said he was overwhelmed by the "extraordinary" support for the fallen soldier shown by the Kane community.
"He was one of my soldiers," Craig told The Kane Republican. "I had to be here."
Craig was joined Thursday in Kane by several other military leaders, including Major General Randall Marchi, who is the commander of the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. This division includes the Kane unit, which VanGiesen joined after graduating from Kane High School in 1999.
"Sergeant VanGiesen is part of our extended family," Marchi told The Kane Republican. "He'll always be part of our family."
This is the second visit to Kane within a week for both Craig and Marchi. They came to Kane last Friday to visit privately with the families of Tom and Sue VanGiesen and Frank and Sherry Sirianni, who are the parents of Erin.
A helicopter transported the generals to Kane last week and again Thursday.
In his message at the funeral, Troup called VanGiesen "a bona fide hero who quietly served his country and his buddies."
Troup said the fallen soldier loved to fish and hunt and root for the Pittsburgh Steelers pro football team.
But Troup said "his country and his family meant even more to him."
Troup said he knows that the soldier also read the Bible.
"His father recently quoted a scripture from the Bible to Ken and Ken corrected him," Troup said. "That shows me that Ken read his Bible."
Troup said Christians like the VanGiesens who have faith in God "know it will not be the last time we see Ken."
The VanGiesens told The Kane Republican last week that faith in God is helping them to endure the loss of their son-- who is the youngest of their three children.
Lt. Drew Campbell of Pittsburgh, who is the commander of the Kane unit of the National Guard, stepped to the podium at the school auditorium to announce several military awards for VanGiesen.
The awards include the Bronze Star for service to "Operation Enduring Freedom," a Purple Heart, a NATO medal, a state Guard award for meritorious service and medals for the Afghanistan campaign and the Global War on Terrorism.
The loss of VanGiesen is the first casualty ever for Campbell, who has been the commander at the Kane Guard unit for about 18 months.
"It's never easy being a soldier," Campbell said.
Members of various patriotic motorcycle clubs held American flags along the sidewalks leading to Kane High School. Club members also provided a motorcycle escort for the funeral procession from the high school to the intersection of Route 6 and Gibbs Hill Road near Ludlow.
Gov. Tom Corbett has ordered flags across the state to be flown at half-staff in honor of VanGiesen and two other Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers who were all killed July 18 while riding together in a truck in a convoy. An improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near the vehicle.
Members of the administration for the Kane School District assisted with the public visitation and funeral service at the high school. Ronald McDonald II, a Kane funeral director, handled the arrangements.
Jeff Kepler, the principal at Kane High School, said he was a biology teacher for the fallen soldier and his two siblings.
"They are great kids and it's a great family," Kepler said in commenting on the VanGiesens. The soldier's siblings include a sister, Amie Gullifer of Kane and a brother, Matt VanGiesen of Oak Harbor, Wash.
The ceremony at the cemetery included the presentation of folded American flags to families of both VanGiesen and Sirianni. The service also included a 21-gun salute by a National Guard rifle squad and the playing of taps by a National Guard bugler.
Intermittent rain, heavy at times, fell during the funeral procession from the high school, down Hemlock Avenue and up Fraley Street through the Uptown Business District to the cemetery near Ludlow.
Despite the rain, many spectators stood along the route and waved American flags. Members of Kane area volunteer fire companies lined up shoulder-to-shoulder along Fraley Street to show their respect for the fallen soldier.