Loved ones say goodbye to fallen soldiers

CHICAGO Army Private First Class Leonard Gulczynski was 19 years old when he died in an accident in Iraq, and Sgt. Joshua Harris was 21 years old and died in Afghanistan, along with another Chicago area soldier, when an improvised explosive device detonated.

The families of the two young men wanted their lives, service and sacrifices celebrated in a public way. They want all to know the faces and feelings of those who serve this country.

Sgt. Joshua Harris had always wanted to be a soldier. He enlisted even before he graduated from Walther Lutheran High School.

"He's been here 21 years. We have to keep those 21 years going. We cannot allow this to stop," said the soldier's father, William Harris.

"He loved everybody. He had a giving heart, and that's the way it should be here and everywhere," said stepmother Jean Harris.

That warm heart and easy smile brought Josh Harris many friends. They gathered Saturday in a high school gymnasium where, just a few years ago as a teenager, Harris often talked of serving his country.

"Aside from the military, he loved this place. If everyone could be as passionate about their life and their calling as Josh was, the world would be a much better place," said Walther Lutheran High School teacher Danielle Mbadu.

Josh Harris died with another Chicagoan last week in Afghanistan, 24-year-old Jason Vazquez of Humboldt Park. The two were killed by a roadside bomb while helping protect Afghan police trainees.

"He and Sgt. Vazquez were very close. They were battle buddies. Of course, they both departed this world together and went on to a better life," Illinois National Guard Lt. Col. Tim Bizoukas said.

Also remembered Saturday was Private First Class Leonard Gulczynski. An honor guard and patriot riders joined Carol Stream residents to remember the 19-year-old.

His father and grandfather served before him.

"My son loved being a soldier. He was very proud to wear the uniform. I just can't express the feeling I have for him carrying on that tradition," said father Michael Gulczynski.

Half of the National Guard unit Josh Harris and Jason Vazquez belonged to is in Afghanistan. The other half will be deployed and shipped out in the next week, and they'll do so with heavy hearts.

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