2007-07-06 / Front Page

Fallen Soldier's Funeral Service Disrupted By Estranged Father

By Howard Schwach

The North Carolina funeral service for a Far Rockaway man killed by an explosive device in Iraq on June 21, turned ugly this week. Aman, reported to be his estranged father, attempted to retrieve the dead soldier's medals, according to Alex Keown, a reporter for the Wilson Daily Times, who was present at the funeral.

Military pallbearers carry the casket of Far Rockaway native Alphonso Montenegro II who was killed by an IED in Iraq late last month. Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daily Times. Military pallbearers carry the casket of Far Rockaway native Alphonso Montenegro II who was killed by an IED in Iraq late last month. Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daily Times. According to Keown's report, soldiers and Wilson County Sheriff's deputies struggled to keep family members apart at the July 2 funeral mass at St. Therese Catholic Church in Wilson, North Carolina, for Sergeant Alphonso J. Montenegro II, 22. The graduate of Far Rockaway High School died in Baghdad when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) wracked his Humvee, killing him and four other soldiers.

According to authorities, the argument broke out over two posthumous medals, a purple heart and a bronze star, that had been awarded to Sandra Montenegro, the dead soldier's mother, who lives in Wilson, by an Army official only minutes before.

Brigadier General Arthur Bartell, who called Montenegro a "genuine hero" awarded a purple heart and a bronze star to his mother, Sandra. Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daily Times. Brigadier General Arthur Bartell, who called Montenegro a "genuine hero" awarded a purple heart and a bronze star to his mother, Sandra. Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daily Times. "This is really a strange tale," Keown told The Wave in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "This man was out of their lives for 17 years and then he just shows up at the funeral."

"I've been at hockey games where a fight broke out, but never before at a funeral where a fight broke out," the reporter added.

Uniformed men from various branches of the armed forces kept several family members separated in the church parking lot while others tried to intervene and restore the dignity of the service.

Adozen units from the Wilson Police Department and Sheriff's deputies responded and restored order.

Those police officers maintained a distance between the combatants at the subsequent funeral service at Evergreen Cemetery, where Montenegro was laid to rest.

Keown told The Wave that the father was kept about 200 yards from the rest of the mourners as the military burial ceremony was carried out.

The dead soldier's estranged father tries to take medals from his mother. Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daily Times. The dead soldier's estranged father tries to take medals from his mother. Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daily Times. Montenegro enlisted in the Army in 2002, after graduating from Far Rockaway High School.

He was promoted to Sergeant in 2006.

He had previously been awarded medals for service in Iraq, but Montenegro's sister, Jennifer, told Keown that he was her hero for the way he took over after their father left.

"He was so special," she said. "After our dad left, he took it upon himself to be responsible and to teach us the right values. To me, he was my father. He took care of me, he took care of everybody, especially our mother."

She said that her father surfaced again only after her brother's death was first reported.

Montenegro was the second local man to be killed in Iraq. In August of last year, Belle Harbor resident Lance Corporal Michael Dennis Glover, USMC, was killed by a sniper while trying to save other men in his platoon.

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