The family and friends of Sgt. Steven C. Ganczewski said goodbye to their hero Monday.
The Army Ranger was killed Nov. 16 during combat operations in Balad, Iraq. He was 22.
He was praised for his courage and virtue at a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church.
"It is not important how long a man lives, but how he lives," the Rev. Slawomir Siok told 300 mourners in the Niagara Street church. "We are here to remember Steven's goodness and virtue."
A military honor guard of Army Rangers and veterans stood in the rain outside the church, which is on the same block as Niagara Street Elementary School, which Ganczewski attended when he was growing up in Niagara Falls.
A member of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, in Fort Benning, Ga., at the time of his death, Ganczewski was serving his fifth tour of duty in war zones -- four in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
He was awarded the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Meritorious Service Medal posthumously.
"We joined the military together," said Senior Airman James Stark, 22, during the eulogy. "Steven always took care of you. He was a brother."
Stark, a reservist with the 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, said Ganczewski had been his best friend since the fifth grade.
"We used to walk home from school together," said Stark, who now lives in Youngstown. "When I heard he was no longer with us, it broke my heart."
Siok tried to ease the loss by posing the question: "Lord, why did you take Steven, whose life had just begun?
"No one of us can find the answer," he said. "Only a great soldier like Steven now knows why."
Ganczewski was born in Albuquerque, N.M., and came to Niagara Falls with his family in 1987. He was a 2003 graduate of Niagara Falls High School, where he was a member of the wrestling, cross country and football teams.
While attending school, he was a member of the First Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. Before enlisting in the Army right after graduation, he worked at the Como Restaurant in Niagara Falls.
After the service, family and friends went to the Como for a memorial lunch.
Among the family mourners were his wife, Rachel; his parents, Mark and Maria; his 17-year-old brother, Christopher; and his grandparents, Nilo and Ofelia DelMar and Kathleen Ganczewski.
Steven Ganczewski and his wife were married in October 2006 and had just purchased a home in Columbus, Ga. They have a daughter, Makayla, 2.
"We had you for a very short time," his mother's Panamanian side of the family said in a written eulogy, "but you were able to show us your courage and gallantry in everything you did."
Ganczewski was the 32nd service member from Western New York to die in Iraq and Afghanistan since U.S. operations began.