Standing on the side of Lithia-Pinecrest Road, Melissa Sheedy clinched an American flag as she solemnly watched the hearse bearing the body of Army 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich pass by.
Her husband, Navy Cmdr. Michael Sheedy, was part of the funeral procession. He and Lechowich had been good friends.
"We were at Ivan's going-away party," said Melissa Sheedy who brought along her two children, Andrew, 8, and Morgan, 6, to watch the procession.
Andrew held a poster that simply read, "For Ivan."
"I wanted my kids to see this," said Sheedy. "I felt it was important for them to honor Ivan."
Valrico resident Kim DeBois was walking her dog and saw the Sheedys standing by the side of the road. She decided to join them on the spur of the moment.
"I was in the military and really support these guys," she said. "I wanted to show my respect."
A full house gathered at the funeral Mass at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Valrico Saturday, Oct. 15. The Mass was celebrated by Lechowich's pastor, the Rev. William Swengros, who also married Lechowich and his wife, Jen, last November.
Among those in attendance were Hillsborough County Commission chairman Al Higginbotham and state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico.
The 27-year-old Lechowich was killed in Afghanistan Sept. 28 when the truck he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device, killing Lechowich, his gunner and his driver.
Lechowich was assigned to the 515th Sapper Company as a platoon leader and deployed to Afghanistan in April.
"On one of his trips home, he told me his job was to defuse bombs," recalled Swengros. "It's something he really wanted to do, something he was determined to do and be the best at."
In fact, Lechowich attended the rigorous Sapper Leader Course twice, said Swengros.
"The first time he failed the course but he went back and tried harder the next time," said Swengros. "He wasn't willing to accept defeat. To have that drive, that zeal for life, is what a true hero is."
Day after day in Afghanistan, Lechowich risked his life to keep others safe, said Swengros.
"No one knows how many men he saved by putting his life on the line," said Swengros.
He said Lechowich had three passions: serving his country, his wife and his relationship with God.
"I know God was there on that fateful day and took him by the hand and brought him home," said Swengros.
Maj. Gen. Karl Horst, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, spoke about Lechowich's sacrifice.
"He was a man of purpose and values, and placed service to his nation above self," said Horst.
He urged Jen Lechowich to be sure their 3-week-old daughter, Natalie, understands the sacrifice Lechowich made.
"As Natalie grows, make sure she never forgets that her daddy loves her and he gave his life for her."