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AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Seneca Johnston was remembered as many things Thursday. A rapid riser through the ranks. A would-be samurai. A surprisingly good rapper. A potential mate for life.

But all of those gathered in Hangar 1 essentially said the same thing: He was a good guy whose life was too short.

“I can’t stop thinking that Seny, you left me too soon,” said his girlfriend, Smayling Dainis, with the help of a translator. “I don’t want to remember his death. Better to remember the wonderful person he was.”

The 26-year-old senior airman assigned to the 31st Maintenance Squadron was struck by two vehicles and killed early Saturday morning on the SS-13 near Sacile.

His fellow Griffins, informed about his death later Saturday morning, are still taking it hard.

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Roland choked up while taking part in the eulogy. He remembered watching “The Last Samurai” with Johnston. They gave each other Samurai names. Johnston’s was Senekata. The names somehow caught on with others in the squadron.

Staff Sgt. Mike Pearce remembered his friend stunning him with his rapping ability, which he displayed by stepping on stages both on base and off. Pearce’s favorite? “The Motion, the Movement, has got me Groovin’.”

Lt. Col. Douglas Plymale, the squadron commander, said the Griffins are maintainers on and off the job. “We fix things. Although we are unable to fix this with any satisfaction, we can fix ourselves,” he said, encouraging his airmen to grieve and help each other through the process.

Brig. Gen. Robert Yates, the 31st Fighter Wing commander, said Johnston went out of his way to help others.

“Airman Johnston gave,” Yates said. “He gave on the job and off the job.”

He said he was told that during a stint at Balad Air Base in Iraq last year, Johnston frequently visited wounded troops recovering on base after he finished his shift repairing aircraft. He was a volunteer for Airman Against Drunk Driving. He was promoted six months early to senior airman.

About 500 people, many of them sporting either the service’s dress blues or BDUs, attended the service as temperatures rose into the 90s outside and large fans tried to keep those inside relatively cool.

Johnston arrived in Aviano in December 2002 and was on his first assignment in the Air Force. He is survived by two sisters, Shannon and Jasmine; his mother, Carole Lynn Hauptly of Peoria, Ill.; his father, Clay, of Princeville, Ill.; and grandparents, June and Richard Hauptly.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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