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Family and friends mourned Death of Spc. Wai Phyo Lwin, killed in Iraq

  • Hla Than

Spc.Wai Phyo Lwin, 27, a native of Burma who was assigned to Manhattan's famous "Fighting 69th" Regiment died March 2, Wednesday after he was ambushed while patrolling the highway between the Baghdad airport and the heavily protected "Green Zone". The patrol's Humvee hit a road-side bomb.

Full military honours funeral service for Spc. Wai, the first Burmese-American to die while in action was held Saturday, March 12 at Long Island National Cemetery, New York. At Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, soldiers escorted Wai's flag-draped coffin into a square brick pavilion, where his family sat awaiting the final burial rites.

Before the service, Officer Griffin explained about the service, "The Casket will be brought forward , still with the internment flag draped on the coffin. The rifle detail fires 21- gun salute, three rounds are collected from the 21- gun salute. The honoured guard is dispatched."

Two soldiers stay with the internment flag and begin folding it. Those three rounds that are brought forward for DUTY,HONOR and COURAGE are placed to the three points in the flag.

The flag is turned over to the mother, father or spouse and rendered hand salute and also awards are presented . Officer Griffin also said Awards of Bravery would be presented to Wai, "The four awards presented posthumously today are the Combat infantry Badge, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Army Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. "

During the miltary funeral honors ceremony , six soldiers shot 21- gun salute to honor Wei and a soldier played "Taps." Moving in slow, synchronized movements, white-gloved two soldiers folded the flag that had covered Wai's coffin and presented the folded triangle burial flag together with the medals to his mother, May Thi Kha. Then two helicopters, in a final gesture of honor, flew overhead.

Among over a hundred mourners of family friends and military personnel who attended the funeral are two members of Wai's platoon in Iraq.

Spc. Washington , who is returning to Iraq on Monday said, "Wai was the coolest friend… like fun person to be around.Always brings your spirits up when you feel down, always a happy guy, I'm blessed to know him."

Spc. Wilkes who was injured and is back on leave said, "On Monday he called me right before he passed away. I'm a little blind now, out of my right eye. Hope they can fix it so I can go back. I'm still in disbelief , I still think when I go back, I 'll see him there."

Wai's leave was due on March 23rd. and they had made plans to go with him if leave permits to visit Burma.

They said he would be solely missed. Wai's childhood friend, Thurein said, "I was shocked when I heard the tragic news. But I felt happy for him as he did what he always wanted to do, to join the army, but sad his death was so sudden."

Mi Mi, a mother herself said, "I feel anguish for his mother , but I'm glad he achieved what he wanted to do."

Wai is also the beloved grandson of Rangoon University former Rector Dr. Mg Mg Kha. A well- respected educator in Burma, who at age 91, passed away just a month ago before Wai's tragic loss of life.

New York Governor George Pataki also issued a statement on Friday for both Wai and Spc. Azhar Ali, 27, also of Queens, killed in the same ambush. "Their bravery and selfless service to our state and nation are in keeping with the finest traditions of the National Guard and they will always be remembered," said his statement.

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