Only son 'was a good boy - a good man'

Amid grief over their loss, Pfc. Louis Niedermeier's parents proudly recall his courage and thoughtfulness.

Published June 4, 2005

Denise Hoy removed her flag pin, lowered her flag to half staff and sobbed.

The two officers had just left her St. Petersburg home. She saw them coming Thursday night through the glass door where her Blue Star Banner hung, and even before the doorbell rang, she knew.

Her only son, Army Pfc. Louis E. Niedermeier, was killed Wednesday in Ramadi, Iraq, when his unit, which was conducting combat operations, came under enemy small arms fire.

Niedermeier, 20, of Largo, couldn't wait to enlist in the Army, just like his dad. He wanted to sign up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, but he was only 17 and Hoy said no.

After graduating from Pinellas Park High School in 2003, he joined the Army. His unit was sent to South Korea after a stint in Oklahoma. He arrived in Iraq in June 2004.

He was a scout who served on the front lines, pointing lasers at targets so other soldiers could shoot missiles at them, said his father, Ed Niedermeier, who also served in the Army. The details surrounding his death are unclear, but his father said he was shot by a sniper.

"They said he went down fighting," said Hoy, 41.

Louis Niedermeier didn't want his family to worry and was tight-lipped about his time in Iraq. He told Hoy his gun shot straight, so he would be all right.

During a visit home in February, he spoke of people being blown to pieces, recalled Becky Raines, a family friend. "His friends died before his eyes," she said. "And now him."

He told his father he didn't want to go back to Iraq, but he knew he had to. "He did it like a man and with full courage," said Ed Niedermeier, 43. "He didn't cry."

Every day, Hoy wore a flag pin that belonged to a friend's grandmother whose four sons had fought in World War II. That mother wore the pin until all her sons came home. Hoy posted a note on the U.S. Army Web site: "If you see my son, please tell him this story, and now I'm waiting for him to (come) home too."

Hoy last spoke to her son 10 days before he died. She told him she wanted to remove the pin, so he needed to come home.

Niedermeier was supposed to finish his Iraqi tour in early August. He was planning to marry his high school sweetheart, Sarah Hatley, who is serving on the USS Fitzgerald in Australia.

On Friday, Niedermeier's parents, who are divorced, stood under the flag, clutching pictures of their son. They wanted reporters to remember him, to ensure he didn't die in vain.

"I hold my head up really high knowing I raised a boy willing to give his life up for his country," said Hoy.

In almost all the family's pictures, Louis Niedermeier is serious and smiles his military smile. But he is beaming in the last photo as he hugs 11-year-old Merissa Hoy, his stepsister.

Born in Brunswick, N.J., Niedermeier moved to Florida when he was 5. Both his parents come from military families. When a storm tore through the area and ripped a flag from its pole, the second-grader told his mother they needed to burn the flag to properly retire it. When she said no, they had a moment of silence instead.

Niedermeier attended Clearwater High School as a freshman and sophomore, playing quarterback, offense and defense on the Clearwater Junior Tornadoes. He transferred to Pinellas Park High in his junior year. He worked as a glazer with his father at Glass Pros of Tampa's Clearwater office, and at Best Buy, but was proudest of his Army job.

He loved hot peppers and complained about the food in Iraq. When he got tired of Slim Jims, his family sent him beef jerky. They also sent him a motorcycle magazine for his birthday. He bought a blue Suzuki motorcycle in February and a red one off eBay while he was in Iraq.

He never got to see the second bike.

Right before Mother's Day, he sent Hoy a winged glass bear with an amethyst, her birthstone, in the middle of its tummy.

Dear Mom, hey I know that I cannot be there for Mother's Day, but this is the best I could do given the situation I am in right now. I love you mom, I hope you like your gift. Love Louis.

"He was a good boy - a good man," said Hoy, correcting herself. "He turned out to be a good man."

The family will hold a memorial service at 11 a.m. on June 14 at Largo Central Park. Niedermeier will be buried June 17 in Arlington National Cemetery with full honors.

--Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Shannon Tan can be reached at shtan@sptimes.com or 727 445-4174.