Updated 06/24/14 – 5:34 p.m.
MOKENA, Ill. (CBS) — Friends and family of a fallen soldier from Mokena said their final goodbyes on Tuesday at a funeral service was held for 19-year-old Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen, who was killed in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.
CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports Toppen was with a special operations unit on June 9 when they were ambushed by Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan. Toppen and four other soldiers were mistakenly killed by a U.S. airstrike called in to help them.
“The freedom to live in the greatest country in the history of mankind can come at a very dear price,” said his uncle, Jack Winter.
Toppen grew up in Mokena and graduated from Lincoln-Way East High School last year.
Dr. Tim Harlow, senior pastor at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, said Toppen’s family is comforted knowing he’s with his father, who died four months ago.
“If there’s a double tragedy in the fact that dad and son have both been lost this close to each other, there’s double comfort in the fact that we really believe that Aaron and Ron are together,” he said. “We really believe that they’re in a better place, and we really believe we’re going to see them again.”
Toppen’s family arrived at the church an hour early to have a private moment before the funeral started Tuesday morning.
Dozens of Patriot Guard Riders lined the entrance to the church, holding flags in Toppen’s honor. The Orland Park Fire Department also hoisted a large American flag over the parking lot.
“I’m proud of him that he followed his childhood dream. I just wish it wouldn’t have ended like it did,” said his mother, Pam Toppen.
Harlow said the family has felt a sense of overwhelming support from the community and the military.
“They also know that this was a life that Aaron chose. They also know that this was something that he was called to do when he was a little boy. There’s a picture picture of him in there, he’s a preschooler and he’s wearing his grandpa’s Army helmet,” Harlow said. “This is a kid that grew up wanting to be in the Army, but he never let it go.”
Since Toppen’s body arrived in Chicago, it has been guarded by a member of the military every minute of the day.
“This young man didn’t have a lot of time on earth, and unfortunately he paid the ultimate price,” said Illinois National Guard Capt. Dustin Cammack. “We’re here to honor his service and what he has given to our country.”
After the service, hundreds of people waited along Wolf Road for nearly two hours as the funeral procession took Toppen’s body from the church to St. John’s Cemetery in Mokena, so they could stand and honor him and his family as the hearse passed them.
Many held American flags throughout the procession. Hundreds more were planted along the route.