On June 1, Pfc. Louis Edward Niedermeier was in combat in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, when his unit came under fire. Niedermeier was hit by a sniper's bullet and killed.
He was two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.
Yesterday, more than 80 mourners gathered to bid the young soldier farewell at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Thank you for remembering him as he really was," his father, Edward Niedermeier, holding the folded U.S. flag presented to him, told those who had gathered graveside. "My son was a hero."
Louis Niedermeier, who lived in Largo, Fla., was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Good Conduct Medal and was posthumously promoted to specialist. He had died, as his relatives emphasized during the service, fulfilling his dream of serving his country.
Niedermeier was born in New Brunswick, N.J., and moved to Florida's Gulf Coast area at age 5. He attended Clearwater High School before transferring to Pinellas Park High School as a junior. He graduated in 2003 and enlisted in the Army. After training, he was stationed in South Korea. He was deployed to Iraq a year ago.
Yesterday's graveside ceremony was preceded by a memorial at Fort Myer's Old Post Chapel. Photographs of Niedermeier on display showed him as a tot in a red sweater and bow tie, as an adolescent in a tuxedo and as a soldier in fatigues holding a weapon.
His uncle, Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Welsh, stood in uniform behind the coffin and shared his favorite memories from over the years, from childhood birthday parties to motorcycle rides side by side.
"He was not my nephew," Welsh said. "He was my brother-in-arms."
Niedermeier's passions, in addition to his fiancee, Sarah Hatley, were his car, a blue Camaro for which he once took home a trophy at a car show, and his dream motorcycle, also blue. He purchased another motorcycle while in Iraq, a red one he found on eBay -- which he never got to ride.
Hatley, who serves in the Navy aboard the USS Fitzgerald, learned of her fiance's death while docked halfway around the globe. The high school sweethearts had known each other since 2000 and been engaged since 2003. According to her sister Irene Wheaton of St. Petersburg, Fla., Hatley and Niedermeier planned to marry this year, once the couple figured out when they could both come home on leave.
"Louis was a great man who wanted to fight for our country and stand up for what he believed in," Wheaton wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post. "Louis was a great friend to everyone that he met. He never had anything bad to say about anyone."
Teachers at Pinellas Park High, from which Niedermeier and Hatley graduated in 2003, still remember the "cute couple" that used to study together in the library.
"He was just one of the good kids," said Ginger Brengle, a librarian at the school who was used to seeing the studious Niedermeier poring over his textbooks in a quiet corner. "You could tell he was raised well."
Karl Meinecke, Niedermeier's drama teacher, said the young man stood out because of his politeness and maturity. "He was a little bit on the shy side, but quick with a smile," said Meinecke, who remembered Niedermeier's diligence as he worked on scenes and improvisation in the introductory class. To lose him at such an age, he said, "brings the war in Iraq to your front door."
Niedermeier, who is also survived by his mother, Denise Hoy, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at Fort Carson, Colo. He is the 144th person killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington Cemetery.