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Ken VanGiesen's family relies on faith to endure pain

July 22, 2011

Photo by Ted Lutz – Amie Gullifer (center) of Kane holds a photo of her brother, Staff Sgt. Kenneth VanGiesen, a Kane native who was killed Monday while serving in Afghanistan with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Tom VanGiesen (left) is the father of the soldier. Matt VanGiesen (right) of Oak Harbor, Wash. is the soldier's older brother. Sue VanGiesen (not pictured) is the mother of the fallen soldier.

*This article is part of a special internet edition*

KANE – Tom and Sue VanGiesen on Tuesday heard the worst news parents can ever hear.
Their 30-year-old son-- Staff Sgt. Kenneth VanGiesen-- had been killed in Afghanistan while serving with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
As can be imaged, it's been a painful four days for the VanGiesen family as plans still are being made for the soldier's funeral in Kane.
Despite their heartache and tears, the VanGiesens both claim their faith in God will see them through these darkest days of their lives.
"If you don't have faith, I don't know how people would ever get through this," Sue VanGiesen said while greeting a steady flow of friends at the VanGiesen residence at 137 Lincoln St. in Kane.
"God never told us we wouldn't have problems or hard times," Sue said. "But God does promise to be with us. I hurt, but I know God will get us through this."
Her husband agreed.
"I prayed for my son and all the soldiers every night," Tom said. "God will be there for us."
The VanGiesens are members of the First Church of God along North Fraley Street in Kane. Sue is the church treasurer. Tom is an usher. The Rev. Chad Troup, pastor at the church, will preside at the funeral service.
Arrangements still are pending, although it appears the service won't be held until Tuesday or Wednesday, the family said.
The Ronald McDonald Funeral Home in Kane will be handling the arrangements. The body of the soldier is expected to lie in state at one of the Kane schools, a family spokesman said. A private burial ceremony will take place at the Gibbs Hill Cemetery near Ludlow. VanGiesen is expected to be buried near his maternal grandmother-- Beverly Witherow Proashas.
The fallen soldier is the brother of Amie Gullifer, a 1994 graduate of Kane High School and a resident of Kane, and Matt VanGiesen, a 1992 graduate of Kane High and a resident of Oak Harbor, Wash.
"I was very proud of him," Amie said in discussing her younger brother who joined the National Guard after graduating from Kane High in 1999. She said her son, Isaac, 11, "really looked up to Ken."
"He was my hero," Isaac said. Isaac said he and his uncle often "messed around" with "Bandit"-- Ken's Boston Terrier.
"We like to make 'Bandit' howl," Isaac said.
The parents of the fallen soldier said their son enjoyed "playing" with Isaac and Isaac's 9-year-old sister, Hannah-- the children of Amie and Joe Gullifer.
"We had to buy Ken a squirt gun and a Nerf gun so he could play with the kids," Tom said.
Amie, who lost the use of her legs six years ago and is confined to a wheelchair, said her soldier brother "totally believed in what we're doing" in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Matt said his younger brother "knew what he was getting into" when he went to Afghanistan earlier this year.
"He knew the dangers and he accepted that," Matt said.
Since he joined the National Guard 12 years ago, VanGiesen has spent 1,400 days or nearly four years in deployments overseas. He served one year in Germany and two separate deployments in Iraq.
A full-time employee in the National Guard maintenance department at Cambridge Springs for the past four years, VanGiesen was "selected" to join the 131st Transportation Company, 213th Area Support Group, based in Williamstown and Philadelphia for the deployment in Afghanistan. He was one of three soldiers in his unit killed Monday when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated on their convoy near Bagram. Five other soldiers were wounded.
"We didn't have a good feeling about this deployment," Tom said in discussing his son's latest assignment overseas. "I was very apprehensive this time," Sue said.
VanGiesen was attending Edinboro University when he volunteered to go to Iraq in 2005-06 with members of his "home" unit in Kane.
"Ken told me to sit down," Sue said. "Then he told me he was going to Iraq. I told him it wasn't his job to give me gray hair.
"I didn't want to see him go, but I told him I would support him-- if that's what he wanted to do."
Tom said his son joined the National Guard "out of high school" because the Guard was offering to pay most of his college tuition. After his deployment to Iraq, Ken never returned to college.
"He didn't want to go back to college because he had a professor who said we shouldn't be there," Tom said. "Ken believed otherwise."
The fallen soldier purchased a home in Millcreek Township near Erie with his longtime girlfriend-- Erin Sirianni, the daughter of Frank and Sherry Sirianni of Kane. They have been together for the past 14 years.
Major General Wesley E. Craig, the Adjutant General for the Pennsylvania National Guard, is expected to arrive in Kane today by helicopter to meet with the VanGiesen family.
The VanGiesen family is encouraging friends and well-wishers to make contributions in the name of their son to the Fisher House program.
This program provides free lodging for families of military personnel. There is a Fisher House at the Dover, Del. Air Force where overseas' casualties are brought. The VanGiesens stayed at this Fisher House Tuesday night to await the arrival of their son's body on Wednesday.
A color guard carried VanGiesen's flag-draped casket from a U.S. Air Force plane.
"It was the most beautiful ceremony I never wanted to see," the soldier's father said.

Pick up a copy of the Friday, July 22, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.

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