Chicago soldier gets final salute

Hundreds attend funeral for Army Spc. Michael Nance, a South Side native killed in Afghanistan.

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Hundreds attended the funeral for U.S. Army Spc. Michael Nance, a soldier from the South Side who was killed in Afghanistan.

Hundreds attended the funeral for U.S. Army Spc. Michael Nance, a soldier from the South Side who was killed in Afghanistan.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A little boy on tiptoes leaned into the casket and lay his head against the soldier’s chest.

Another mourner, a woman, bent her head and kissed the cheek of U.S. Army Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance.

And so it went for more than an hour, as hundreds of mourners — including Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker — streamed past an open casket Tuesday at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side to bid farewell to Nance, who died last month in Afghanistan. The 24-year-old was just three weeks into his first overseas tour.

Speaker after speaker, several choking back tears, said Nance, a South Side native, died living his dream.

“Today, we lay to rest a great Chicagoan, a loyal friend, a solider and a warrior, a legendary jokester, a brother and beloved son,” Lightfoot said.

Amid the somber faces, family friends recalled a young man with a ferocious appetite and an equally fierce love for his family.

“He served the Army with the same ferocity,” said Trevor Harris, a cousin. “He died protecting our freedoms. He died a hero.”

Nance and 20-year-old Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer of Stryker, Ohio, died July 29 of wounds suffered in a combat-related incident in Tarin Kowt, in southern Afghanistan.

Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance

Army Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance

Provided

U.S. officials saidtwo paratroopers were killed when an Afghan soldier opened fire on them at a military camp in the Uruzgan Province. The attacker was wounded and taken into custody.

Nance and Kreischer were assigned to the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Nance seemed destined for the soldier’s life, earning at a very young age the nickname “Lock and Load,” family said.

A few years ago, when Nance first told his mother he was considering enlisting, his cousin sent him the movie “Full Metal Jacket.” Nance watched it 10 times, cousin Paul Gregoire told the gathering Tuesday.

And when Nance enlisted, Gregoire, a U.S. Air Force reservist, pulled out some 10-year-old military food rations to “indoctrinate” Nance, Gregoire joked.

“Isaiah, true to form, he ate it all,” Gregoire said.

He recalled his last conversation with Nance, some texts the two exchanged when Nance was on the airplane to Afghanistan.

“Little Cuz, you be careful out there. Work hard and play harder,” Gregoire wrote.

Nance replied: “Definitely. I got this.”

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