OSWEGO, NY – Nearly 200 friends and family circled the parade grounds at historic Fort Ontario Friday night to pay homage to Kyle Rookey.
Hundreds more, from Fort Ontario to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo. (where Kyle was stationed) and beyond also remembered the 23-year-old Oswegonian who died Sept. 2, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, while serving in the US Army. The Department of Defense has said only that the death was the result of “a non-combat related incident.”
Kyle was remembered with some tears but mostly by smiles and laughter as those present recalled the young man they said would do anything to help anybody.
Christine Mansfield was one of the organizers of the event.
“Kyle was like my brother and I wanted to pay some sort of respect to him,” she said. “He was a big impact on my life as well as many other people in this community.”
He was a “motivator,” she said, adding that he didn’t like to see people sad or upset.
“He was a role model to a lot of people,” she said.
More than 175 people attended. Many more expressed condolences via Facebook and were lighting candles in Kyle’s memory wherever they happened to be Friday night, Mansfield noted.
Kyle was part of the marching band in high school and also worked on the tech crew in the theater. “He tried involving himself in as much as he could,” according to Mansfield. “Especially in history; he was a major history buff. So, for us to actually be able to meet in the fort, I think he would love that. He’d be smiling down on us.”
Mansfield said people will not treat people badly, “because you never know if they are going to be the one that are sacrificing their lives overseas to fight for our freedom.”
Kyle’s parents, George E. Rookey and Carol Sue Slater Akers of Oswego, said their son would be overwhelmed by the turnout.
“I have so many different ‘families.’ I worked at Tops and they are here and the people from the Y are here. All the family is here,” Carol said. “It means a lot to be able to see them all at once. It was just wonderful of Christine to do this. She called yesterday and asked our permission and got this together in that short time.”
”They were very close when Kyle was here,” George added. “They were like brother and sister almost. She just felt like she had to do something and this is the result of that.”
They thought about not coming to the vigil, he said, explaining “It’s all about Kyle. We wanted the focus to stay on Kyle. But a lot of people said they wanted to see us too and share their memories.”
“Everything’s just been so overwhelming,” Kyle’s father continued. “The outpouring of support, it’s just been really amazing.”
“This helps the family, not just us but the extended family. It prepares them for what’s going to happen this week; they don’t realize how many people are going to be just in the procession (from Oswego County Airport to the funeral home).”
Kyle would be in “total disbelief,” his father said of the vigil. “He was just a selfless person, always put himself last.”
“He would have been the one that would have done this for someone,” his mother said.
“He just wouldn’t imagine how many people love him and have been affected by him,” his father said.
“He didn’t realize how many lives he touched,” his mother added. “Not at all.”
“We talked about a lot of things. He was a good friend to everybody. I don’t think he had any enemies. He trusted everybody and everybody trusted him, said David Wallace, Kyle little brother. “There’s nothing I can put into words about how he felt about people. Even if he didn’t know you, he’d help you out no matter what.”
Kyle’s friends were like his extended family, he said, adding that Kyle’s death has been hard on them all.
A the crowd stood in a huge circle holding candles, they shared memories of Kyle.
“Kyle was like a son to me,” his godfather said. “He was a great kid and he grew up to be a great young man. He will be greatly missed by our entire family. Thank you for the outpouring of support.”
Others recalled how he would go out of his way to make people smile and be happy and how he put all of himself into his hugs.
Calling hours will be held Wednesday 4-8 p.m. at the Dain-Cullinan Funeral Home.
Funeral services will be private at the convenience of the family.
Burial with full military honors will be in St. Paul’s Cemetery.