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A fallen soldier's final march

Pfc. Jonathan Rossi, killed in Iraq, is memorialized by family, friends and comrades.

Published July 12, 2007

Matthew Reif (left) and Jason Rossi (right) carry the casket of their brother Pfc. Jonathan Michael Rossi of Safety Harbor, who was killed July 1 in Iraq, to his funeral mass Wednesday at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church.
[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Stevenson Primacio (left) hugs Adeline Colombo after a funeral mass at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church for Pfc. Jonathan Michael Rossi, 20, of Safety Harbor, who was killed July 1 in Iraq. Primacio was Rossi's best friend. Colombo is the mother of Elizabeth Behl, who was Rossi's girlfriend. At right is Patrick Nighland, 23, a high school friend of Rossi's who currently serves in the US Coast Guard.

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
A grave marker was presented during Wednesday's interment ceremony at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

BUSHNELL - Less than a year after first reporting to Iraq, Pfc. Jonathan Michael Rossi came to rest Wednesday afternoon at the Florida National Cemetery after a half-day full of military precision dedicated to his memory.

As the Army Honor Guard folded the U.S. flag draping Rossi's gray casket into a neat triangle, his father, Michael Rossi, a retired U.S. Air Force staff sergeant, stood at attention a few steps away in full uniform, sunglasses over his eyes.

The soldier's stepmother and his seven siblings and step-siblings looked on as an Army major general, on bended knee, presented the flag to his father.

Jonathan Rossi, 20, of Safety Harbor was killed July 1. He became the fifth Pinellas County service member and the 159th Floridian to be killed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rossi was buried in grave 412-1384, the same grave where his mother and his father's late wife, Myrna Rossi, is buried. She died of breast cancer in 1997.

"Today was the easiest day, believe it or not," said brother Jason Rossi, 19. "I know now he's really with my mom. They are just waiting on us to join them."

Wednesday's burial was preceded by a funeral Mass at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church in Safety Harbor and a procession to the cemetery. The ceremonies came just 10 days after uniformed officers arrived at the Rossi Safety Harbor home to notify the family.

Rossi, a member of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Calvary Division based in Fort Bliss, Texas, was killed when insurgents attacked his unit using improvised explosive devises and small arms fire. A week later, the 2005 Countryside High graduate's body arrived at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base.

He'd joined the military two months after graduating from high school. He reported to Iraq in October.

Rossi was buried on a day Gov. Charlie Crist had ordered all state and national flags in Pinellas County to be lowered to half-staff in the soldier's honor. As the funeral procession snaked up East Lake Road for the 70-mile trip to the cemetery, Pinellas County firefighters lined the streets at various points and saluted. About 85 motorcycle riders from the Patriot Guard Riders, Florida Chapter, led the way.

The procession followed a morning funeral Mass where stepbrother Matthew Reif said his brother, who was proud to serve his country, wouldn't have wanted to see so many tears. Reif said his brother loved to draw and the martial arts, that he was reserved but had a great sense of humor. Those who described him as shy didn't know him that well, he said.

When the blended family of eight brothers and sisters first came together, the boys were teenagers, Reif recalled. When their parents, Michael and his former wife, Kathleen, went out, the older boys watched the house. "As soon as they left, Jonathan put on the song (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party),' " Reif said, causing warm laughter to spread through the church. "We danced all over the coffee table."

Then Reif drew serious: "If I could say one last thing it would be 'Stand down, Pfc. Rossi, your mission is now complete.' "

Staff Sgt. Eric Griffin, along with Rossi's platoon member, Sgt. Omar Hernandez, represented Rossi's Army colleagues. Hernandez walked with a cane. He was injured June 6 in Iraq.

Rossi "is a great soldier, a friend and a brother for life," Griffin said.

Stevenson Primacio said it wasn't until Wednesday's Mass that his best friend's death became a reality.

"I was numb until I started carrying the casket," said Primacio, who attended high school and practiced marital arts with Rossi. "That's when it hit me."

At the cemetery, Rossi's body was moved slowly in a hearse to his burial location.

His father clutched the flag that was presented to him and walked slowly with his head high behind his son. Jonathan's stepmother and siblings walked with him.

At the ceremony's end, after taps was played in Rossi's honor, friends said the soldier loved being in the Army and for him, there would be no other honorable way to greet his mother. On his arm was a tattoo that said: "To win is to be prepared to die."

Now he rests beneath a simple grey tombstone, the date of his mother's life on one side; Rossi's on the other, along with these words: "A Son. A Brother. A Friend. A Hero."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or

[Last modified July 11, 2007, 22:03:07]

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