Tuesday, the Bay Area said good-bye to a hometown soldier killed in Afghanistan. Sgt. Ricardo Seija's body arrived at MacDill Airforce Base in the morning. He came home from war a hero.
Sgt. Seija gave everything he could to his country. In the end, that meant his life. The soldier's widow cried over his flag-draped casket.
His parents and grieving family held each other tight.
The 31-year-old military police officer from Tampa was killed by an explosive last week. The attack happened one month before Seija was to return home. Seija graduated from Leto High School in 1999. Most recently, he was based at Fort Bliss in Texas.
"My heart is broken," Seija's mother Ignacia Seija told FOX 13 last week.
Deputies escorted the solemn procession through Tampa to the funeral home. Veteran William Vickers waited along Bayshore Boulevard to salute Seija. Vickers served in the Air Force in Korea and Vietnam. He's 82, loves his country, and the men like Ricky Seija, and women who die fighting for it.
"These are the heroes. Not me. They're the heroes," said Vickers. "They gave their life. I gave my service. They gave their life."
Vickers and other patriots standing along Bayshore paused to pay respects, as Seija's body passed.
"Who but us to welcome them back?" said Dave Braun, a Vietnam veteran and co-chairman of the Veterans Memorial Park Museum Committee, Inc.
Each young life lost in the war zone is one too many for our veterans. Sgt. Seija was killed as U.S. troops drawdown in Afghanistan.
"Unnecessary. Unnecessary. That whole thing in Afghanistan is unnecessary," said Paul Diehl, vice president of the Bayshore Patriots.
Downtown, sheriff's deputies held their hearts, as did people who never knew Seija.
"We come out here and let him know that he's our hero," Renny Jo Villademoros told FOX 13.
Villademoros and Pat Krepsky work downtown.
"It's a way to honor their lives and their sacrifice," Krepsky said.
Seija's mother says serving his country was always her son's only plan, and he did until the end.
A private funeral was held for Sgt. Seija. He will be buried with full military honors at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell Wednesday.
In addition to his wife and parents, the soldier leaves behind an 8-year-old son, also named Ricardo.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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