This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and The Mercury‘s website.
WEST CHESTER — Julius Alzona will never be able to cherish a memory of being with his father. He’ll never know what he felt like or what he smelled like.
But his grandmother, Cezarina Alzona, is making sure young Julius will always know who his father was and what he did for his country.
Sgt. Louis Fastuca, a soldier from East Goshen, was mortally wounded July 5, 2010, in Warduk, Afghanistan, after the vehicle he was driving struck an improvised explosive device. He died later that day at Forward Operating Base Shank.
He was only 24 years old.
On top of that, he left behind his 1-year-old son, whom he never got to hold.
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“We are working to keep the memories alive for Julius,” Alzona said. “Unfortunately, he never got to see his father. They only knew each other by pictures. It’s really important to keep this whole history alive for him.”
Julius is currently being raised in Maryland by Alzona, his maternal grandmother, because his mother, Cezarina Viqueira, is currently in the Army and was, herself, also deployed to Afghanistan for some time.
Julius is a member of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and for children such as Julius, TAPS realizes this is the only way for them to build memories.
Alzona, committed to preserving Fastuca’s legacy for Julius, has already taken him to where his father was assigned at Camp Ederle in Italy.
He was able to see the barracks his father was in before being sent to Afghanistan and meet some soldiers in his unit.
“A man gave Julius his enlistment pin,” Alzona said. “He changed positions (with Fastuca) that morning. He was actually going to drive the vehicle that morning and they switched. This young man keeps Julius in a very special place in his heart.”
From the trip, Alzona made a scrapbook of memories for Julius to continue adding to after each trip.
“It’s very important for him to know people cared about his father and that his father was important,” Alzona said.
For the fifth anniversary of Fastuca’s death, Alzona and Viqueira traveled north with Julius to visit his father’s grave Sunday and stopped by the Hall of Heroes inside the Chester County Courthouse in West Chester Monday.
It was an emotional time for the family at the grave with a priest blessing the flag given to the family.
“At the cemetery, Julius was very honored,” Alzona said. “He took care to put flowers, plants and flags at his father’s gravesite. He then sat down and talked to his father. We’ve taught him that his father’s always looking down on him from Heaven.”
As part of the visit to the Hall of Heroes, Julius was greeted by a host of government officials, including East Goshen Supervisors Marty Shane and Senya Isayeff, West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, District Judge Gwenn Knapp, Constable Tony Polito and Rep. Ryan Costello.
“We are so honored,” Alzona said.
The Hall of Heroes, dedicated in November 1999, bears the names of Chester County residents killed in action from World War II to the present day.
Not only was Julius able to see his father’s name etched into plaque, stretching almost the length of the hallway, but he was also able to take a rubbing of it as a keepsake.
Decked out in a uniform identical to his father’s, Julius was front and center of all the attention, receiving gifts from those in attendance.
“(Vaqueira) got him the uniform with his name, too,” Alzona said.
Shane gave the young boy a proclamation commemorating the visit — and told him his name will be read at the supervisor’s meeting Tuesday — while Polito made him a deputy with Knapp swearing him in.
Comitta joined in by presenting Julius with a key to West Chester.
“As mayor of West Chester, I can issue and give a key to the city,” Comitta said. “I think of it as a key to our future and I think that (Julius), and certainly his father, are a key to our future.”
Julius also received, from Costello, the Gold Star Lapel Button, given to family members of those who died in combat, as the next of kin.
Everywhere Julius has gone, he has been greeted with nothing but open, welcoming arms.
It has been something Alzona can’t even fully put into words.
“It means more than anyone will ever know,” Alzona said. “It’s just very touching.”
Since Fastuca was a resident of the area, those gathered wanted to make sure Julius knew he was always welcome whenever he’d like.
“This is your community,” Isayeff said to Julius. “You’ll always have a home here (in West Chester).”