Army pilot's funeral draws more than 1,500 in Citrus

Published: Sunday, January 18, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 11:09 p.m.
INVERNESS - Chief Warrant Officer Aaron Weaver survived cancer and the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, recounted in the movie "Black Hawk Down," and still he wanted to serve in Iraq. On Saturday, family and friends remembered the bravery of the 32-year-old Army pilot who never made it home.
Hundreds of mourners, including members of Weaver's 82nd Airborne Division, held flags during the funeral procession through the streets of his hometown to his high school. With more than 1,500 mourners attending, the public memorial service was held in Citrus High's football stadium.
Weaver was headed to a medical checkup in Baghdad when his medevac helicopter was shot down near Fallujah on Jan. 8. Weaver, a passenger, was among nine soldiers killed.
"It brings me great joy knowing Aaron fulfilled every dream in his life before he left us, and that he would go to war again if it meant my children and your children would not have to face the fear and sadness we have seen the past few years," Weaver's widow, Nancy, said at a private viewing before the funeral.
Gov. Jeb Bush attended the private viewing, but declined comment afterward.
Weaver's brothers, Ryan, 30, and Steve, 39, are also Army helicopter pilots and returned home for the funeral. Ryan was in Iraq, and Steve was training in Hawaii for an expected posting to Afghanistan, his family said. A sister, Regina, is in the Air Force.
As an Army Ranger, Weaver had survived the October 1993 street battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, that was the basis of the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."
During one harrowing stretch, an American column of armored vehicles came under heavy fire as it snaked through the city's streets while trying to relieve a pocket of cut-off soldiers. Weaver's Humvee took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade in the driver's door, but all the men inside survived. For his heroics under fire, Weaver was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.
"His actions, no doubt, saved the lives of everybody in his vehicle," said Weaver's friend and former Ranger, Chaplain (Capt.) Jeff Struecker.
After surgery for testicular cancer in 2002, Weaver requested a special medical clearance so he could fly his OH-58 Kiowa observer helicopter in Iraq, his family said.
"Aaron's selfless commitment to the defense of our beloved country and steadfast devotion to duty distinguished him as a patriot," Army Col. (Ret.) Curt Ebitz said in his eulogy.
Weaver was a popular student at Citrus High, with his former track coach recalling how the teen's energy could light up a room.
"I could tell he was different from most of the kids because of the dedication he had to whatever it was he did," said Tom Darby, the school's dean of students. "Aaron was an excellent student, he was an excellent athlete, he was an excellent individual."
When Weaver mustered out of the Army following his service in Somalia, he returned to Inverness in 1995 and helped Darby train the school's distance runners. Weaver could run the 800 in less than two minutes as a schoolboy and the fitness instilled in him by his Army training earned the students' respect, Darby said.
Florence Honea, a friend of the Weaver family, said she attended the memorial because "we need to be here for our troops."
"I feel for anybody who has gone through this," said Honea, whose son, Sgt. Jeffery Honea, is a helicopter technician with the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul.
Weaver lived at Fort Bragg, N.C. with his wife, 1-year-old daughter and 10-year-old stepson.

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