Public mourns Green Beret killed in Afghanistan along flag-adorned processional route
By PETER GOONAN | The Republican | Published: September 2, 2019
CHICOPEE, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The public mourned on Monday as the body of Green Beret Master Sgt. Luis DeLeon-Figueroa was driven along a flag-adorned route through the streets of Chicopee, Springfield and West Springfield.
Ginni Soja, a member of the Pioneer Valley USO, was joined by many other members at the start of the procession outside Westover Metropolitan Airport. The body of DeLeon-Figueroa, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on Aug. 21, arrived by private jet before a large contingent of military personnel, family, police and public officials including Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos and Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker.
“It’s just a very emotional thing to have to be burying somebody from their own town,” Soja said. “I didn’t know him personally, but from all reports, he was just one hell of a guy. It’s just a shame he had to lose his life in something such as war.”
Many along the route held flags and saluted as the hearse and motorcade drove by.
Robert Langevin, of Springfield, Massachusetts, a U.S. Army veteran who was among those lining the route in Chicopee, said he participated in respect of a fallen soldier.
"It's a sad moment that it has to happen to defend this country," Langevin said. "I hope people realize that this is what it takes to make this country a free country, a great country."
Langevin was with his son, Robert Jr., who is stationed at Westover Air Force Base.
"It's a great deal of pride and honor to salute a hero like him," Langevin Jr. said.
Dan and Beverly Martin, of Chicopee were also among those lining the route that began on Sheridan Street.
Dan Martin, a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, said the procession and the many people who lined the route were "a wonderful thing."
"I'm amazed at how many they have here," Martin said. "The people are unbelievable."
Those who encouraged people to show their support “couldn’t ask for anything better,” he said.
DeLeon-Figueroa “was a fantastic individual” who deserved the outpouring of support, Martin said.
The 31-year-old Massachusetts soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Aug. 21.
Beverly Martin said that upon reading advance news about the procession, "we made up our minds right then that we wanted to be here."
"I was deeply touched," Beverly Martin said.
Keith White was with members of Post 452 in Chicopee Center to pay their respects to DeLeon-Figueroa.
"We all came out to support him," White said. "We appreciate his service. We support his family. Our hearts are saddened with his loss but we appreciate his service."
Miguel Rivas, of Springfield, Massachusetts, a Vietnam Era veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps, was along the Plainfield Street Route in Springfield.
"It was just to show him respect," said Rivas, joined by three relatives. "Consider the fact that most of us who were in Nam or part of the era, we didn't get no respect or anything like that. Granted now, we're starting to. That's why I felt it was important for us to be out here."
Douglas Chazotte, of Worcester, Massachusetts, traveled to pay his respects.
"My son's on active duty and I pray I never need this support of the community" Chazotte said.
He said the distance he traveled to pay his respects is “nothing compared to the distance of Afghanistan, Iraq, (or) Vietnam.”
The funeral is scheduled Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., at the Bethany Assembly of God Church in Agawam, Massachusetts, and burial will follow at the nearby Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
Gov. Baker has ordered state and U.S. flags to be flown at half staff Tuesday.
DeLeon-Figueroa attended Chicopee High School and played basketball for the Pacers.
He served in the Army since he was 18 years old. He became a Green Beret in 2014, and deployed twice to Afghanistan and South America. Previously, he had done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantry soldier.
DeLeon-Figueroa and Master Sgt. Jose J. Gonzalez, 35, of La Puente, California, died of injuries suffered in small arms fire in Faryab Providence in Afghanistan. Both Green Berets had been assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
His dozens of awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal with Valor and Army Commendation Medal.
DeLeon-Figueroa left behind a fiancee, two daughters — ages 9 and 2 — and a stepdaughter, as well as a grandmother, sister and foster family.