'More than just a good soldier': Cavalry unit in South Korea remembers 20-year-old killed in rollover accident
By MATTHEW KEELER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 15, 2019
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — Members of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team gathered Friday to remember Spc. Nicholas C. Panipinto, a young soldier who had promised to share his outdoor adventures one day with all his friends.
Panipinto, 20, of Bradenton, Fla., died Nov. 6 at Camp Humphreys after the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was driving rolled over during a road test, according to a report by the Army Combat Readiness Center. Panipinto was airlifted to a local hospital, where he later died. Four other soldiers were injured.
Not a seat inside the Warrior Chapel on Camp Humphreys, with room for 739, was empty and soldiers of the rotational brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, lined the walls to bid Panipinto farewell.
“The loss of anyone so young is a tragedy,” said Lt. Col. Edward Kennedy, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. “The loss of a soldier that was so promising sent shockwaves through the company and the battalion.”
“He aspired to become more than just a good soldier,” Kennedy said during his tribute. “He did his absolute best every day defending our free nation, motivating others, sharing laughter and encouraging those he faced challenges of life with.”
On Wednesday, American flags and crowds had lined the roads of his hometown in Manatee County, Fla., as a hearse bearing his remains passed by, according to the Bradenton Herald newspaper.
Panipinto enlisted Jan. 9, 2018, and completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Ga., as an infantryman on Apr. 27, 2018. From there, he joined Arrowhead Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry.
At Friday’s memorial, a friend described Panipinto as a man of simple taste.
“He enjoyed hunting, fishing, guns, Toyota Tacomas and playing games in his free time,” Spc. Luis Cortes told the crowd.
“He would share his life with pictures of all his hunting and fishing trips,” Cortes said. “Being a kind friend, he often told us that one day we would all go to his house and fish and hunt together in his favorite places.”
The death of his friend brings a heavy weight, Cortes said. He urged his audience to truly love and care about the ones who mean the most to them, whether a co-worker, a teammate or a family member.
“Nicholas was my co-worker, my teammate and my brother,” he said, “and I wish above anything else I could see him again. Pinto, if you can hear me, I miss you, and I love you, and I hope you are doing well.”
After tributes from Cortes and the unit leaders, Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delafuente performed a last roll call, summoning Panipinto three times to no avail. The gathering concluded with a rifle salute and the playing of taps.
As service members exited the chapel, each had the chance to render a final salute at a battlefield cross — an M-4 standing muzzle down, a helmet on the butt end and a pair of Panipinto’s combat boots in front. Many, including Eighth Army commander Lt. Gen. Michael Bills, placed challenge coins next to his boots.
At his homecoming in Florida, Panipinto was saluted by local government officials, veterans, friends and family as a motorcade that included his hearse passed by. Law enforcement officers and the Patriot Guard Riders, a veterans’ band of motorcycle riders, escorted the body from Tampa International Airport, the Herald reported.
“I thought he was safe, absolutely, for sure. I never in a million years thought this could happen to us,” his father, Anthony Panipinto, told TV station WTSP in Florida.
Panipinto’s awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and M4 Carbine Expert Marksmanship Qualification Badge.
The helmet of Spc. Nicholas Panipinto is displayed on a battlefield cross during a memorial service inside the Warrior Chapel at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019.
MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES