Video and photos: Beverly honors soldier’s final sacrifice

Bobby Gates

Army Spc. 4 Stephen Fortunato was laid to rest on Friday as throngs of mourners lined city streets and packed St. Mary Star of the Sea church to honor the city’s first soldier killed in combat since the Vietnam War.

Fortunato’s flag-draped casket was carried in a horse-drawn, glass caisson that went from Campbell, Lee, Moody Russell Funeral Home to St. Mary’s, passing by Balch Park and through Gloucester Crossing where middle and high school students lined the street.

Friday’s funeral and burial followed Thursday afternoon’s wake at Beverly High School.

Inside St. Mary’s, the Rev. David Barnes said Fortunato joined the Army after seeing American lives taken on Sept. 11, 2001.

“He gave up his rights to be with his own family and friends so others could enjoy the right,” Barnes said in the eulogy.

Barnes noted that it was almost exactly 25 years earlier Fortunato was baptized in St. Mary’s, later graduating from Beverly High School in 2002. He enlisted in the Army in 2005 and married Sherri Favaloro in 2006.

Brig Gen. Todd Semonite said Fortunato’s comrades described him as “the go to guy in the unit.”

Semonite said Fortunato was the gunner on a Humvee that was on a recognizance patrol on Oct. 14 when he was killed, trying to secure an area of Afghanistan where people were having a hard time registering to vote

Semonite said that every time his family, friends and others look at the flag, “We want you to know there is a part of Stephen Fortunato in that flag.”

Semonite awarded Fortunato the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for bravery.

“In the Army, we define a hero as someone who is doing something and putting his life on the line when perhaps there might not be a promise of fame and fortune,” Semonite said.

Along the procession route from St. Mary’s to the cemetery, groups of people stood silently to pay tribute to Fortunato as his casket passed. His family, two cars with beds filled with flowers, color guards from Beverly and State Police, the Beverly Fire Department, Beverly Vietnam Veterans, Disabled Veterans of Massachusetts, Beverly Vietnam Veterans, Beverly VFW Post 545, plus the Patriot Guard motorcycle group made up the cortège.

The Peabody Fire Department Pipe and Drum band led the procession.

Three Beverly high school seniors, Jessica Knight, Brandon Cyr and Lauren Miedzionoski, all watched together at the corner of Cedar and Essex streets.

They said they all knew Fortunato’s brother, Anthony, and knew some of Fortunato’s cousins.

“It’s sad,” Knight said, moments after the procession had passed. “It’s nice they did this.”