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Honoring a fallen hero: Lt. Ivan Lechowich

11:39 AM, Oct 13, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida --  A fallen hero was given a hero's welcome home as hundreds lined Bayshore Boulevard to pay their respects to Army 1st Lt. Ivan Lechowich.

They waved their American flags and held their hands to their hearts as the Lechowich was escorted from MacDill Air Force Base to Riverview where he will be laid to rest on Saturday.

Among the people in the crowd was Craig Wades Harridge, a high school friend.

Years and life may have separated the two, but the young man him said he felt he had to be there to pay tribute to his friend and fellow soldier.

"The fact that people come together like this gives me so much hope for not only the future of our country, but the world," said Harridge.

The possibility of death always weighs on the minds of soldiers, but Harridge says it's a sacrifice they are willing to make for their country.

"Even though these are the saddest days, it's something we are willing to do, something we're proud to do and it's a chance we take knowing it could be us one day, but it's not going to stop us.  What we have to do is too important."

Photos: Lt. Ivan Lechowich Escort

Lechowich, 27, was killed on Sept. 28 after his unit was hit by an IED in the Ghazni Province in Afghanistan, just days after his first born, Natalie Marie, was born.

Two of his fellow servicemen were also killed.

Lechowich's baby girl was born ten days early, in time for her father to see her one time by Skype.

"We were able to set up a Skype account and everyday since the baby was born until the day he was killed, we were able to talk to him at least once, sometimes twice.  He saw the baby 8,000 miles away,' said Rick Lechowich.

Ivan Lechowich graduated from the IB program at King High School in Tampa and went on to earn a degree in History from the University of Florida.

Like his father, he wanted to serve his country so he joined the Army where he led a successful military career.

His comrades remember his discipline and his sense of humor.

Rick Lechowich said, "They found and defused a vast majority if IED's, the number escapes me, but about half or more were found and defused and that's what Ivan did, so they were doing the hardest job in the hardest place and  he wouldn't have had it any other way."

"He did not have to do what he did.  He chose his career freely, he chose the risk freely and he loved his country very deeply," said Lechowich's father, Rick Lechowich.

Lt. Lechowich has been awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Medal, NATO Medal, Combat Action Badge and the Sapper Tab.

Public visitation is this Friday from 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. at St. Stephen Catholic Church at 5049 Bell Shoals Road in Valrico.  A funeral mass is this Saturday at noon at St. Stephen Catholic Church with a full military honors burial at Serenity Meadows Memorial Park.

Memorial donations can be sent to the Lechowich family for Natalie Marie's education fund at PO BOX 7027, Brandon, FL  33508.

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