Family, friends and scores of comrades bid their final goodbyes to 24-year-old 1st Lt. Daren Hidalgo on Monday on the grounds of the storied academy where he, his father and an older brother trained to become Army officers.
Hidalgo, a 2009 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, was killed Feb. 20 in Afghanistan's Kandahar province after insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. Soldiers from Hidalgo's old cadet company at the academy stood by Hidalgo's family at a graveside ceremony under clear, cold skies.
Hidalgo is the 81st West Point graduate to be killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 attacks and the 27th to be buried in the same cemetery as such famous alumni as Lt. Col. George Custer and Gen. William Westmoreland.
Members of Hidalgo's family took time before the afternoon ceremony to remember Daren as a bit of a prankster who loved laughing, racquetball, rock climbing, wrestling, his family and his country. His brothers talked about how he took some shrapnel to his leg in a separate attack two weeks before he died. Only midway through his first deployment, Hidalgo opted to put off surgery and go on antibiotics instead so he would not lose command of his platoon while he was laid up.
"He had really grown up," recalled his brother, Capt. Miles Hidalgo, West Point class of 2006. "He made his choices. He had a purpose."
His father, Jorge Hidalgo, of Waukesha, Wis., said Daren called him and his wife after the first attack to tell him he was OK. It ended up being the last time he spoke to his parents. Jorge Hidalgo said his son told him "it's not that bad, but I can set off metal detectors now."
Jorge Hidalgo graduated from West Point in 1981 and all three of his sons went into the military. The eldest, Jared, is a Marine captain who has served in Iraq. Both Daren and Miles were in Afghanistan when Daren was killed, which briefly added another level of anxiety when the military informed the parents of the death.
"We have two sons in Afghanistan, so the biggest question we had at that time was, 'Which one?'" Jorge Hidalgo said.
Hidalgo was a 2005 graduate of Dallastown Area High School in south-central Pennsylvania. He had been assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany.
Miles Hidalgo said he had been set to meet his younger brother in Afghanistan on Feb. 21. Instead, he met his brother's body at Dover Air Force Base.
Daren Hidalgo would have turned 25 on Friday, the day of his funeral. Mourners sang "Happy Birthday" at the service.
"That was really tough," said his younger sister, Carmen Spellman.