Family Buries Soldier Killed In El Salvador
PENNSVILLE, Pa. (AP) _ Sgt. 1st Class Gregory A. Fronius, eulogized as a loyal and enthusiastic Green Beret devoted to church and country, was buried with full military honors far from the Salvadoran battlefields where he died.
Fronius, 27, was the first American military adviser to be killed in combat in strife-riddled El Salvador.
″He died fighting, fighting for our country, for himself, for the soldiers he was training with and for El Salvador,″ said Fronius’ friend, Staff Sgt. Michael Yorgensen of the 7th Special Forces Group in Panama, in his eulogy Tuesday.
″At a time when some leaders and men might have been keeping themselves out of danger, he went out in the midst of it to do his job, and he was doing more than his job. He was doing everything possible in his power to do what was right and what was expected of him,″ Yorgensen said.
Yorgensen recited the 1966 song made popular by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler, ″The Ballad of the Green Berets,″ in a soft, strained voice, occasionally fighting back tears, during a 45-minute service at Pennsville Baptist Church.
Fronius was born in Painesville, Ohio, but spent most of his youth in nearby Connellsville, about 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He enlisted in the Army at age 17 and became an intelligence specialist.
He was killed March 31 during a guerrilla raid on a Salvadoran army garrison in El Paraiso. Forty-three Salvadoran government troops also died.
As a weapons instructor working with civilians, Fronius’ job was to interview peasants and Salvadoran troops about guerrilla movements and train soldiers in military tactics and counter-insurgency.
He was promoted posthumously from staff sergeant to sergeant 1st class and awarded the Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service Medal.
″His enthusiasm was at a peak. He was very, very happy with what he was doing and the results he was getting,″ Yorgensen said, gazing down at the casket in front of him.
Fronius’ closed casket, draped with an American flag, was placed at the foot of the altar beneath an oak cross. Two large red and white flower arrangements flanked the casket. A photograph showing Fronius in military dress greeted mourners as they entered the sanctuary.
Fronius’ Panamanian widow, Celinda, sat in the front pew with a 7-year-old niece and her in-laws. The couple’s two children, Gregory Jr., 7, and Francine, an infant, remained in Panama.
Maj. Gen. James Taylor, representing the U.S. Army’s Southern Command headquartered in Panama, attended the services. Brig. Gen. Robert Dilworth, representing the Army chief of staff and Secretary of the Army, sat at Mrs. Fronius’ side.
About 300 other people, including 16 Green Berets, filled about half the pews in the roomy, brown-brick church.
After final prayers at the graveside, soldiers fired a 21-gun salute and played Taps.