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Final farewell to fallen soldiers Community mourns as two of its native sons are laid to rest

Nary a wisp of a cloud intruded on the perfect blue-sky settings that framed the Tuesday burials -- with full military honors -- of two more area soldiers who gave their lives in the war in Iraq.

Two days after Veterans Day, hundreds of mourners filled an Orchard Park church and a Town of Tonawanda funeral home to pay their last respects to Sgt. Daniel J. Shaw of West Seneca and Pfc. Dwane A. Covert Jr. of the Town of Tonawanda.

At Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, where Shaw was laid to rest, the Rev. Adolph Kowalczyk turned to the soldier's father, Ronald Shaw, and commented on what a beautiful day it was.

"I'd like to consider this one of the gifts Daniel gave us today," his father told Kowalczyk, on a day when bright sunshine accompanied the colorful military burial traditions.

Shaw and Covert became the 30th and 31st Western New York soldiers to be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 5 1/2 years, according to a Buffalo News count.

They also were the first local soldiers killed there in almost nine months.

The two families conducted their services differently, with the Shaw funeral open to the media and the Covert family respectfully asking for privacy.

Sometimes, Kowalczyk explained, families just aren't ready, in their mourning process, to share their grief with the community. The Shaws, though, were ready to recognize their son's service to his country and opened the process to everyone to help with their grieving.

"I respect both ways," Kowalczyk added.

Sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Orchard Park, where Kowalczyk told mourners about the two Daniel Shaws.

There was the 23-year-old man and serious-minded soldier who wanted to make the world a better place as he reached out with his smile and his kindness, especially to the children of Iraq.

"In Iraq, he was learning the language and reaching out to the children there, to connect to them," Kowalczyk said. "Daniel was one of the good guys there. He was there to help them."

More than a few mourners smiled when Kowalczyk talked about the younger Danny. He was the practical joker -- with his mother, Brenda, as his favorite victim. He was the teenager who pushed the edges with his Mohawk haircut, the young boy who once went home from church, put on his mother's graduation gown and pretended to be a priest saying Mass.

"Daniel, the man, never forgot the spirit of Danny, the boy," Kowalczyk reminded about 500 mourners in the church.

"Not only did Daniel want to make the world a better place, but the world is a better place because of Daniel," he added.

His best friend, Sean O'Brien, dwelled on the younger Danny, referring to the jokester and prankster who made so many people laugh.

O'Brien's favorite memory?

"Dan invited me to a toga party, and I was the only one who showed up in a toga," he said, with a laugh.

Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Cole read some testimonials to Shaw from his commanding officers. He was a soldier "I could never stay mad at," one commander said. Shaw would walk around with that slight grin of his, and his commanding officers knew something was up. But when it was time for duty, he switched that personality into the serious mode.

His style, Cole told the mourners, was a rough but loving style.

"The Army is at a loss without his unique perspective," he added.

Covert, 20, was laid to rest in Elmlawn Cemetery, following a service where flag bearers acted to ensure privacy.

Approximately two dozen men, many bearing military insignia on their leather jackets, positioned themselves along the perimeter of Amigone Funeral Home on Sheridan Drive, American flags in hand, as mourners arrived for the late-morning service. The flag bearers moved to form a line on the front sidewalk as the time drew near.

Mourners no doubt heard all about Covert's young family, about his wife, Jeanette, their 22-month-old son, Cameron, and their baby girl due in December -- whom he already had named Zoe.

After the service, the unofficial honor guard regrouped in the driveway outside the front door. Two news photographers standing across the street were allowed to remain, but the flag bearers arranged themselves to block the view of the funeral home's doorway and waiting hearse, stretching the fabric on some flags to ensure privacy.

No matter how they grieved, in public or private, both sets of mourners probably would agree with Shaw's good friend, O'Brien, in the conclusion of his brief eulogy.

"Dan, we love you, and we could not be more proud of you," O'Brien said. "Goodbye, my friend, until we meet again."

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com and jhabuda@buffnews.com

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