Friday, October 17, 2008

God Speed, Army Specialist Steven Fortunato

Beverly soldier is killed, wanted to change world
By John R. Ellement, Globe Staff October 17, 2008
BEVERLY - Among the flood of memories that rushed through Elizabeth "Betty" Crawford's mind yesterday was the time in July she stood at Logan Airport watching her son, Army Specialist Stephen Fortunato, as he prepared to leave her and New England.

Suddenly, the supportive but anxious mom who had easily handled every other separation since her son enlisted in the Army in 2005 was replaced by the mother who wanted to reach out, grab hold of her son, and never let him go.

"I knew I was sending him back to a war zone, [and] I didn't want [the Army] to have my son," she recalled yesterday. "But the other part of me said this is what he wanted to do. He was a soldier. This was his job. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life."

Crawford recalled that Logan moment yesterday as she also recalled her son, who was killed Tuesday in Afghanistan when the vehicle he was riding in was blown by up an improvised explosive device. At least two other soldiers were killed, Army officials told Fortunato's family.

"My son Stephen was very affectionate and a loving kid," Crawford said of her 25-year-old son. "He was the jokester, all the time. But he was also a dedicated soldier. He went into the Army like anyone else, a kid. He came home as a man."

According to his family, Fortunato's decision to enlist into a war-time Army was driven by a powerful feeling of patriotism; a desire to experience war personally, not only through a video game; and the opportunity to use the GI Bill to pay for college.

Since joining, he had served in Korea, but in July he was assigned to the First Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, and was deployed to Afghanistan.

He returned to Beverly for a three-week break, which ended Sept. 26. He then spent about two weeks working his way back to Afghanistan and had been there only briefly when he was killed, his family said yesterday.

"He wanted to change the world," his father, Richard, said in a phone interview from his Florida home yesterday. "How he was going to do it single-handedly, I don't know. But he wanted to change the world."

The elder Fortunato also recalled a conversation with his son: "He told me in these words, 'Dad, I'm ready to die for my country.' I don't know where he got that, he just wanted to be out there, to do it."

Fortunato was from a prominent Beverly family, which includes a former mayor and school superintendent. He grew up in Danvers and Beverly and graduated from Beverly High School in 2002, his family said.

He tried studying graphic arts at North Shore Community College, but decided he was not ready for college, his family said. He enlisted, choosing the Army because he wanted to be in combat. "That's where he wanted to be, in the middle of it," his father said.

Fortunato was the oldest of three children, and his younger siblings were at their mother's side yesterday, offering support and memories of their brother.

"I don't even want to believe this is true. He was my role model, my hero," said Anthony, 20, the youngest. "My brother was everything to me. I loved him so much that I really, really hope that wherever he is, he knows that."

Joseph Fortunato, 23, said he and his extended family are still reeling from his brother's death. "I never thought it would happen to our family," he said.

Sherri Favaloro, whom Stephen Fortunato married in 2006, said yesterday the couple's marriage had been stressed to near the breaking point by his service.

They had begun divorce proceedings. But, she said, they were in constant contact over the phone and Internet and were trying to patch things up, especially during his leave in September.

"He had brown hair, green eyes, and the biggest smile in the world," she said. "He was a loving person. He loved his family. He loved his mother. He stayed strong for them. He was a hero."

According to his family, Fortunato's original enlistment would have ended in mid-December. But because he was assigned to a unit that deployed to Afghanistan in July, his tour of duty was extended into 2009.

"I wish he was here and I miss him a lot. I wish this card wasn't dealt to him, but it was," his father said. "I lost my oldest son. I miss him.

"But he gave up his life for a great cause; he gave it up for his country. I don't know what else I can tell you."

Funeral arrangements are incomplete, the family said.

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