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KANE – Ken VanGiesen is home again.
The body of the 30-year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan last week arrived in Kane shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday following an emotional procession from the Bradford Airport in Lafayette Township.
An estimated 85 patriotic motorcycle riders accompanied the cortege, which included two military vans for the soldier's family and a hearse that carried the body to the Ronald McDonald II Funeral Home along South Fraley Street.
There are no public calling hours at the funeral home where National Guard personnel are maintaining an around-the-clock solemn vigil outside the South Fraley Street entrance.
Public visitation will be held from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday at the auditorium at Kane Area High School. The funeral service will begin at 3 p.m. and is expected to last about one hour.
The Rev. Chad Troup, pastor of the First Church of God in Kane, will conduct the service. The Comcast cable TV network is expected to telecast the service on local Channel 5 in Kane.
Following the service, the soldier will be laid to rest at the Gibbs Hill Cemetery near Ludlow in a grave near his maternal grandmother, Beverly Witherow Proashas. She died in 1999-- the same year her grandson graduated from Kane Area High School and joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
The ceremony at the cemetery is private.
Friends and well-wishers are welcome to say their final goodbye to the brave dedicated soldier by waving American flags along the route of the procession.
The cortege will leave the high school following the funeral service and travel on Hemlock Avenue from Route 321 to South Fraley Street (Route 66). At this intersection, the procession will turn right onto South Fraley Street and pass through the Uptown Business District in Kane.
The cortege will continue on North Fraley Street (Route 6) and pass through Wetmore and Hamilton townships on Route 6. At Gibbs Hill Road near Ludlow, the procession will turn right and proceed to the scenic cemetery at the top of the hill.
VanGiesen will be buried with full military honors at the private ceremony.
The soldier, who would have marked his 31st birthday a week from today, is the son of Tom and Sue VanGiesen of 137 Lincoln St., Kane. The soldier lived in his own house in Mill Creek Township near Erie with his longtime girlfriend, Erin Sirianni, a 2000 graduate of Kane High and the daughter of Frank and Sherry Sirianni of Highland Road.
The soldier's siblings include Amie Gullifer of Kane and Matt VanGiesen of Oak Harbor, Wash. The soldier also is survived by his maternal grandfather, Rowland Proashas of Kane.
Large crowds gathered Tuesday along the route from the airport to the funeral home in Kane to wave American flags and salute the soldier, who was killed July 18 when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near his truck in a supply convoy in eastern Afghanistan. Two other Guard soldiers in the same truck also were killed by the blast.
Members of the National Guard often are called "citizen soldiers" because most hold regular jobs and attend monthly training programs. The Guard has supplemented "regular" Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
VanGiesen, however, has done more than his fair share of duty for his country. He's been on four overseas Guard deployments-- one in Germany and two in Iraq. His latest deployment in Afghanistan began April 3.
With 1,400 "mobilized days" of service overseas, VanGiesen has ranked near the top in deployments among members of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
The body of the fallen soldier was flown Tuesday morning by a chartered plane from the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to the Bradford Airport. Lt. Drew Campbell of Pittsburgh, the commander of the Guard detachment at the Kane Armory, accompanied the body on the flight back home. The flight was a little behind schedule due to fog at the Bradford Airport.
The soldier's body has been at Dover for a week. The VanGiesen family was able to attend a ceremony last Wednesday when his body was removed from the plane that brought the fallen soldier back to the U.S.
"It was the most beautiful ceremony I never wanted to see," his father said.
While at the Air Force Base, the VanGiesen family stayed at the new Fisher House for families of military personnel. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Fisher House Foundation in the name of the fallen soldier.
A nine-member funeral detail from the Kane unit of the Guard traveled Tuesday by van to the Bradford Airport to carry the casket holding their friend and comrade from the plane to the waiting hearse. Sgt. First Class Kenneth Overly of Harrisville is the non-commissioned officer-in-charge of the funeral detail, which is scheduled to practice today at the armory for the military service Thursday.
The pall bearers in the detail include Staff Sgt. John Gillespie of Russell in Warren County, Sgt. Dave Sayers of Lake City near Erie, Spc. Robert Clark of Sigel, Staff Sgt. Robert Mika who lives near Mt. Jewett and twin brothers Spc. Nathan and Spc. Johnathan Brown of Tidioute in Forest County.
"I already have a big lump in my throat," Johnathan Brown said Tuesday in anticipating his honored duty as a pall bearer.
Pfc. Kelly Thompson, one of 19 females in the 52-member Kane unit, is an alternate pall bearer. Spc. Angeline Barnish of Allegany, N.Y. is the alternate bugler. The women had duty together Tuesday evening as "guards" just outside the South Fraley Street entrance of the funeral home.
For the past four years, VanGiesen has worked full-time as a mechanic technician at the field maintenance shop at the new National Guard complex in Cambridge Springs near Erie. That complex is the home of the 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, Stryker Brigade. Members of this Guard unit now are taking part in their annual "summer training camp" at Fort Pickett, Va. They are expected to be in Kane for the visitation Thursday at the high school.
Although VanGiesen worked at the Cambridge Springs site, he still was assigned to the Kane unit and came here for drills.
He and two others from the Kane unit were chosen for deployment in Afghanistan with the 131st Transportation Company, 213th Area Support Group. This Guard unit is based in Williamstown and Philadelphia. The company is primarily in charge or convoys and convoy security, according to a statement from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Sgt. First Class Rollin Shumaker of Seneca near Oil City and Sgt. First Class Daniel Crow of Pittsburgh are the "casualty assistance officers (CAOs)" and have been assisting the VanGiesen and Sirianni families.
They drove military vans to transport the families to the airport where the procession back home began.
Shumaker said "people lined the route" most of the way from the airport to the funeral home in Kane. Flags were flying all along the route.
"You don't see this in big cities," Shumaker said. "It was very impressive," Crow said.
Staff Sgt. Steve Gabriel of Kane, who is preparing for deployment in Kuwait in January with the Kane unit of the Guard, said has known VanGiesen since "he was a little kid."
"I can't believe this is happening to someone here in Kane," Gabriel said. He said VanGiesen was "always upbeat" and "enjoyed his job" with the Guard. "He turned into a very good soldier," Gabriel said.
"He was a soldier," Heath Boyer said in describing VanGiesen. Boyer, a Kane borough police officer who was on duty when the procession passed through town, is a member of the National Guard unit in Kane. Boyer has been deployed in Iraq twice-- once with the Guard and once with the "regular" Army.
Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, America's Guardians and the American Legion Riders accompanied the cortege over its route from the airport to Kane. Todd "Deuce" Swartz, a Jamestown, N.Y. resident who is affiliated with the American Guardians, said many members of his chapter work at the state prison in Marienville.
He said the motorcyclists ride together to "show our support for our troops and their families." He said many members of the patriotic motorcycle clubs are military veterans.
Sgt. Ryan "Cletus" Wilson of Sheffield, a member of the Guard unit in Kane and a member of the Guardians, rode in the procession along with his wife, Sgt. Julie Wilson. She is the administrative non-commissioned officer (NCO) for the Kane Guard unit-- Detachment 1, Company A, 128th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB), Second Brigade.
While NCO Wilson was in the procession, Lt. Julie Smith fielded many of the phone calls at the Kane Armory. Smith is the commander for Company A based in Clearfield.
Russ Counts, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in Kane, said American flags will be distributed Thursday to persons who line the route for the cortege following the funeral service.
Dignitaries from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard are expected to attend the visitation Thursday at the high school. Major General Wesley Craig, who heads the entire National Guard in Pennsylvania, came to Kane last Friday to visit with the VanGiesen and Sirianni families. Major General Randall Marchi, the commander of the 28th Infantry Division of the Guard, also took part in the same visit. They arrived by Black Hawk helicopter at the soccer field at the rear of the high school.
The VFW in Kane has displayed 56 American flags along Fraley Street in honor of VanGiesen. Ed Bliss, quartermaster for the VFW, said thieves "with no respect" for the fallen soldier have stolen two of the flags.
Hearing Bliss discuss the theft of the flags, 82-year-old Ernie "Woody" Woodford, a veteran of the Korean War, said "I'd break their neck if I could catch them."
Pick up a copy of the Wednesday, July 27, 2011 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.