PAWTUCKET — “Leaving a proud legacy” was a phrase that was woven frequently through the remarks of several who spoke at Monday's funeral services for U.S. Army Specialist Christopher L. Mendonca.
The 20-year-old Pawtucket native, who later lived in Holbrook, Mass., died on Sunday, Dec. 4 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in New York while on leave from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. According to family members, he had been visiting in New York because his wife attends school there, and was involved in the deadly crash on the last day of his leave. He had been scheduled to return home from Afghanistan in April.
Spc. Mendonca was an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran of the U.S. Army, Company B, 2-8 Infantry, 2nd BCT, 4th ID, out of Fort Carlson, Colorado.
Services with full military honors were held in the Temple of Restoration, 40 Walcott St., Pawtucket, followed by burial at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Providence.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee attended the memorial service, and he had also ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff. Also in attendance was U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. John J. McGuiness, and the National Guard Funeral Honor Guard.
On Friday, Mayor Donald R. Grebien had ordered city flags to be flown at half-staff in Mendonca's honor. He also issued a statement saying, “I am deeply saddened by the untimely passing of a city son and soldier whose much-too-brief life held so much promise. It takes a special person to devote his life to his country as Specialist Mendonca demonstrated during his two active duty tours in Afghanistan. All our hearts in the city of Pawtucket go out to him and his family in this difficult time.”
In front of a church filled with family, friends, and members of the military, Pastor Ben Destine spoke of Mendonca's courage, wisdom, and his history of good decision-making. He noted that the young man had been willing to sacrifice his own freedom to fight for the freedom of others and his country.
Addressing Mendonca's grieving family members and friends, Destine said that “his was a legacy worth leaving” and he charged everyone in the church “to make decisions that will make your legacy worth leaving.” Acknowledging that the husband, brother and son had been taken prematurely, he noted, “God is our heavenly commander. Death is merely a transition of life. It's like getting orders for a new assignment.”
Pastor Roger Robertson also spoke of Mendonca, a Holbrook High School graduate who had planned to pursue a career as a state trooper, as being an inspiration and role model to his family and friends. He also invited anyone who wished to speak to offer their memories to “celebrate his legacy.”
Joseph Pires, Mendonca's brother, said Mendonca had been the first in the family to graduate from high school and to join the U.S. Army. He also spoke of his sibling's composure, optimistic outlook on life and a heart that “must have been made of gold. Your determination will be my motivation to go on,” he stated. “You are my brother, my hero and now, my guardian angel.”
Mendonca's widow, Kasey Tapper Mendonca, also noted his courageous and protective nature, saying his nickname had been “Hercules.”
Addressing her husband's mother and siblings, she said he had treated her “like a queen” and had always spoken in the highest regard of his family and friends. She added that while home on leave, he had tried to keep up a hectic agenda in order to visit with as many family members and friends as possible.
A high school friend named Matt brought some smiles to the room when he spoke of Mendonca wearing a pair of sneakers made of a see-though material that he paired with an every-changing array of colorful socks. This way, classmates thought he had a large collection of different sneakers. “He had the best shoes anyone had even seen,” he stated.
He noted that in the six years of knowing Mendonca, his friend had left him with “a lifetime of memories,” and told the members of the congregation that, despite their grief, “He wouldn't want any single one of us crying. He would want us smiling.”