By Pat Kumpan
A Celebration of Life for a fallen soldier, Army Corporal Kenneth Necochea Jr., was held Saturday at Templar’s Hall in Poway.
Amid tears of grief were fond memories shared by friends and family of a young man who always wanted a second helping of his grandmother’s pancakes, enjoyed family gatherings and was remembered for his strong faith, easy-going manner and kindness to others.
The 2007 Poway High grad died Dec. 12 during a suicide attack on a NATO-Afghan base in the Kandahar Province, where he was stationed with his 101st Airborne unit. Five other American soldiers also died during the incident.
Nechochea was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Afghanistan Campaign Medal.
Saturday’s gathering, a potluck luncheon, was a belated birthday celebration to commemorate what would have been Necochea’s 22nd birthday.
His mother, Donna Wright, said, “He’d be amazed at this turnout and probably would wonder why all the fuss about him.”
Donna and her husband, Neal — Necochea’s stepfather — along with Kenneth Necochea Sr. and his wife, Lori — Necochea’s stepmother — organized the event.
Lori Necochea often referred to herself Saturday as Necochea’s “bonus mom,” while Neal Wright said he was Necochea’s “bonus dad,” an affectionate term both were proud of, they said.
Roughly 100 guests jammed the hall, which included family photos, two oil portraits contributed by a nonprofit as a tribute to Necochea’s service to his country, songs by the Poway High Die Lieder singers and “Kenny” stories related by friends and family.
Necochea often asked his family to send crayons so he could give them to children he met in Afghanistan.
“Kenny always wanted to make the children laugh,” said his aunt, Linda Meacham.
Steven Smith, a family friend, told the gathering that he is spearheading a special grant, the Kenneth Necochea Jr. Memorial Grant, which will only be available to Poway High seniors heading off to military careers.
Initially, the grant will be awarded to one student, more if a committee decides a second graduate qualifies. All applicants will be asked to complete an essay about why they have chosen to serve their country.
“We think it’s a great way to continue Kenny’s legacy,” Smith said.
For details, e-mail Smith at email@example.com.
Following the Celebration of Life, the Necochea and Wright families and friends were escorted by Army representatives from Old Poway Park across the street to the Poway Veterans Park.
The Poway Veterans Park Committee, which includes several local veterans, unveiled a commemorative plaque in Nechochea’s name on the Wall of Honor.
Councilman Jim Cunningham served as master of ceremonies and reminded guests that “Kenny will always be here.”
Kenneth Necochea Sr. and Neal Wright both spoke about the young corporal, what he meant to them and others.
Members of the various armed forces hoisted service flags at the park, but only the Army’s theme song, “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” or often referred to as “The Army Song,” was played in remembrance of Necochea’s service.
In the weeks ahead, a plaque will be attached to the flag pole used to display the Army flag. The corporal’s family has purchased it so children and others visiting the park will remember their son.