Min S. Choi – Private First Class, United States Army

NEWS RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
No. 210-05

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.  They died February 26 in Abertha, Iraq, when
an improvised explosive device detonated while they were on patrol. Both Soldiers
were assigned to the Army's 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia.

The Soldiers are:

Private First Class Min S. Choi, 21, of River Vale, New Jersey
Private Landon S. Giles, 19, of Indiana, Pennsylvania


On day of his funeral, Jerseyan slain in Iraq gains U.S. citizenship

Courtesy of the Star-Ledger

Private First Class Min Soo Choi wanted desperately to be an American citizen.

Yesterday, the 21-year-old South Korean native from River Vale received his wish, becoming the first New Jersey soldier to receive citizenship posthumously since the Iraq war began two years ago.

“He had only been in this country for a short while,” Senator Frank Lautenberg said during a funeral service attended by hundreds of people at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale. “But we all know you loved America.”

Lautenberg, along with River Vale and federal officials, pushed to get Choi his citizenship after he was killed on February 26, 2005, when a bomb exploded near his patrol in Abertha, Iraq.

“Thank you, Min Soo, and your family for contributing to the well-being of our nation,” the senator said as he handed the certificate to the soldier's family.

Choi was the 44th service member with ties to New Jersey killed in Iraq, according to the Defense Department. He will be buried this afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

There are roughly 30,000 non-American citizens serving in the military, Lautenberg said. Choi was the 58th immigrant solider killed in Iraq to be awarded citizenship.

Throughout the well-attended service in the high school auditorium, people remembered Choi's humor, charisma, kindness, determination and his pride in serving his country and community.

“We fought for them, he fought for us. We're a band of brothers,” said Korean War veteran George Bruzgis, 72.

Choi lived with his family in Bergen County for about sevenyears. After graduating from Pascack Valley in 2003, Choi enrolled at John Jay College of Criminal Justice for one semester before deciding to enlist in the Army. He was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry.

While his family and friends are proud of Choi, they were initially unhappy with his decision to enter the military during a time of war. They spoke about their struggle to understand his death and the nagging question of whether it was in vain.

But while those gathered to honor the soldier may be struggling with the answer, Choi would not have, said Carlos C. Huerta, an Army Captain and Chaplain.

“If you had asked Min Soo, he would have given a resounding ‘No, my life was not wasted,'” Huerta said.

Choi's friend, Ji Ha Lee, said when Choi told a group of friends he was enlisting in the Army, they all began shouting and asking him why.

“But his decision wasn't made on impulse,” she said as her voice choked with emotion. “He did not want fear of the impending war to stop him from achieving what he wanted to in life.”

He was always there for others, an optimist and dreamer who didn't allow things to stand in his way, Lee said.

“You wanted to protect the people and the country you loved,” Lee said to Choi. “And the marks you have left on each and every one of us is like footsteps on our heart.”

Throughout the service, Choi's mother sat in the front row of the auditorium, her head bent forward and at times resting on the shoulder of Angela Harris, wife of Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. Harris, Choi's commander in Iraq.

Harris traveled from her home at Fort Stewart, Georgia, to be with the Choi family. She said her husband and the rest of the unit in Iraq took the deaths of Choi and Private Landon Giles “pretty hard.”

“We are here to honor his ultimate sacrifice, and those who continue to fight a noble cause for his memory,” she said before awarding the family engraved dog tags with a photo of Choi.

Among the honors awarded to the fallen soldier were a Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge. The River Vale Police Department also declared Choi an honorary police officer and gave his family a badge.

As each plaque, medal and memento of his son was handed to him, Jong Dae Choi bowed in thanks. Choi's parents do not speak English.

His sister Mirry did not speak during the service, but nodded as condolences were whispered in her ears by the various speakers.

Earlier, as her brother's casket was taken out of the hearse, a grimace crossed Mirry's face briefly. She then glanced at her mother, who was sobbing, grabbed her hand and then looked at the flag-draped casket.

Everyone in the family is struggling with Choi's death, said Maria Oh, a family friend who was present when Army officials delivered the news to the family.

“They hurt so, so much,” she said. “I miss him so much. He lived very short, but was a good man.”

Oh said Choi's death made the deaths of all the soldiers fighting in Iraq more personal.

“Today I see they died for me,” she said. “Not for the U.S., but for me. Every soldier.”

She began to cry.

“We in America, have peace because of him.”

Hundreds mourn soldier devoted to his adopted land
© The Record (Bergen, New Jersey)


Min Soo Choi's family receiving condolences at Pascack Valley High School.
From left, father Jong Dae, mother Jae Wha, and sister Mirry, hugging a friend.

In a somber memorial service with full military honors, hundreds of people filled a high school auditorium in Hillsdale on Sunday to honor a young man who gave his life for his adopted country.

Army Private First Class Min Soo Choi, 21, of River Vale, who was killed February 26, 2005, while on patrol in Abertha, Iraq, was remembered as a courageous soldier, a caring friend and an American patriot.

The service at Pascack Valley High School was a study in quiet dignity and grace, befitting a man several mourners characterized as an American hero.

A police motorcade preceded a hearse to the entrance, where friends and family were gathered. As the honor guard slowly lifted the coffin from the vehicle and marched into the auditorium, one mourner cried out as others dabbed handkerchiefs to their cheeks.

At the service, some speakers paid tribute to an ideal: a soldier who wanted to become a police officer or join the FBI to serve his community and the nation he called home. Others spoke of a devoted friend whose sudden loss was unfathomable.

“It still seems as if you would appear before us with a grin and a shoulder to comfort us in our grief,” said Ji Ha Lee, a friend of the family, fighting back tears.

Lee spoke of an optimistic young man who always thought of others first. She said Choi seemed driven not by ambition but by duty. And she talked of how proud his friends and family were when he seemed to grow in maturity each time they saw him after he joined the Army.

“Do not worry and rest assured that we will do our best to support your family,” Lee said. “We know for certain you are watching over us in heaven.”

Another speaker, Bowen Pak, told the audience that the Choi family moved from Korea to River Vale in 1999. Min Soo Choi attended Holdrum Middle School and Pascack Valley High. A member of the high school golf and soccer teams, Choi graduated in 2003. He joined the Army the following February while attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. After completing his training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Choi was assigned to Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Choi was dispatched to Iraq on January 25, 2005. He died less than a month later, when an explosive device detonated while he was on patrol, according to the Pentagon.

Throughout the hour-long service, Choi's parents, Jong Dae and Jae Wha Choi, accepted tokens of gratitude for their son's sacrifice, bowing in thanks to receive each gift.

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg presented a certificate granting their son the U.S. citizenship he had dreamed of.

Angela Harris, wife of Michael J. Harris, the commander of Choi's unit, the 8th Cavalry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, gave the Chois their son's dog tag with a picture taken the day he left for Iraq.

“Our hearts go out to you and your family for the loss of such a fine young man,” Harris said. “We honor your son for the ultimate sacrifice.”

Some 1,500 American troops, 36 of them from New Jersey, have died in the Iraq war.

Choi was the first Korean citizen killed in action while serving with the U.S. military in Iraq, according to a representative of the family. A Korean flag was displayed at the memorial service and Bong Joo Moon, the Korean ambassador to the United States, delivered a eulogy.

Lautenberg noted that 57 other non-U.S. citizens have died serving the United States in Iraq.

The senator said that, like the Chois, his parents had immigrated to America in search of a better life.

“Even though your family has only been in the country a short time, we know that you loved this country,” Lautenberg said of Min Soo Choi.

Following the service, Choi's parents and younger sister, Mirry, received hugs and condolences.

Choi will be laid to rest today at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. An anonymous donor from River Vale provided three buses to shuttle friends, family and media to Arlington for the 1 p.m. burial. The buses will leave from New Florentine Gardens, 97 Rivervale Road, at 6:45 a.m., following the hearse.

Lee concluded her speech with a heartfelt goodbye.

“Our memories and reminiscences of you will always live on,” the family friend said. “Farewell, our beloved friend, and may you rest in peace.”

Salutes to a fallen soldier

Here are some of the honors bestowed on Private First Class Min Soo Choi and his family at Sunday's service:

Certificate of citizenship – presented by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg.
Gold Star Mother's Flag – presented by Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney.
Honorary membership certificate – presented by the River Vale Police Officers Association.
Cavalry spurs – presented by Angela Harris, wife of Army Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. Harris, commander 8th Cavalry Regiment.
Military awards – Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal and Combat Infantry Badge presented by Major General Michael R. Mazzucchi, commanding general, Communications-Electronics Command.

N.J. soldier killed in Iraq gets posthumous U.S. citizenship

HILLSDALE, NEW JERSEY -A young Korean killed in Iraq last week was eulogized as an American hero Sunday for enlisting in the Army and selflessly serving his adopted country.

Army Private First Class Min Soo Choi, 21, was born in Seoul, South Korea, and had lived with his family in River Vale for the past seven years. He was killed February 26, 2005, in an explosion in Abertha, Iraq, a month after he had arrived in the country.

On Sunday, more than 500 people packed Pascack Valley High School's auditorium for an emotional, hour-long memorial service attended by Choi's family, members of the military, politicians, high school friends and members of the Bergen County Korean-American community.

Choi graduated from the school in 2003 and played soccer and golf there.

A casket carrying Choi's body and draped with an American flag was brought into the auditorium in a full military procession as bagpipes played softly in the background.

Inside, a dozen large floral arrangements filled the stage, many containing sashes containing messages written in Korean.

Choi's parents and sister sat in the front row, about 10 feet from the coffin as speaker after speaker presented them with awards, honors and accolades on their son's behalf. His mother and sister wept softly as his father kept a supportive arm around his wife.

Senator Frank Lautenberg lauded Choi's “bravery and gallantry” before presenting his parents, Jong Dae and Jae Wha Choi, with posthumous citizenship for their son.

Although he was not yet an American citizen, Choi had told a neighbor, Donna LoPiccolo, “I'm just proud to serve.” Jong Dae Choi has said his son looked forward to becoming a citizen after completing his military service.

Lautenberg said 30,000 members of the U.S. military are not U.S. citizens and that Choi is the 58th non-citizen to die in Iraq fighting for the U.S.

Because the young soldier had talked of a career with the River Vale police, the town's mayor, George Paschalis, presented Choi's sister, Mirry, with an honorary police badge. Choi had attended John Jay college of Criminal Justice before joining the Army last February.

The family also was given customized dog tags inscribed with the words, “Fallen but never forgotten.”

Choi will be buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Acting Governor Richard J. Codey ordered flags to be flown at half staff Sunday in Choi's honor. Choi also received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal and combat Infantry Badge.

Ji Ha Lee, a family friend, said those who knew him struggled to understand his decision to enlist.

“This was not done on impulse,” she said. “He was an optimistic person who would never let anything hinder his way.”

Choi was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division's 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry. He is the 36th soldier with ties to New Jersey to die in Iraq.

Fallen soldier's final honor
Courtesy of the JournalNews

HILLSDALE, NEW JERSEY — Though he was awarded his U.S. citizenship posthumously, the 21-year-old River Vale man who was killed in Iraq was remembered yesterday as an American hero.

Hundreds gathered at Pascack Valley Regional High School yesterday afternoon to remember Pfc. Min Soo Choi, a U.S. Army infantry soldier who died February 26, 2005, in Abertha, Iraq, when the Humvee in which he was patrolling hit an explosive device.

The soldier's father, Jong Dae Choi; his mother, Jae Wha Choi; and his sister, Mirry, stood stoically outside the high school as Min Choi's flag-draped casket was removed from the back of a hearse by an Army honor guard.

But as a bagpipe wailed, Jae Wha Choi slumped, sagged against her husband and sobbed. Mirry Choi, her eyes fixed on her brother's casket, also cried.

During the hourlong funeral — the first of two military services planned — Choi was remembered as a selfless young man who always wanted to serve America.

“He wanted to protect his adopted country and he did it so bravely,” Sen. Frank Lautenberg said, shortly before conferring American citizenship upon the South Korean who came to America with his family about seven years ago.

A second soldier, Private Landon S. Giles, 19, of Indiana, Pennsylvania, also was killed in the explosion.

Ji Ha Lee, a family friend, recalled some of the reaction to Choi's decision to serve in the military.

“We just shook our heads at what seemed like reckless behavior,” she said. She and others soon changed their minds, however, when they saw how Choi had matured during his military service, she said.

“You were a person of big dreams and even bigger will,” she said during the service, urging Choi to accomplish his goals “in heaven.”

An official from the South Korean Consulate also spoke, as did several local officials.

Rabbi Carlos Huerta, an Army major and West Point chaplain, said Choi was being mourned by three families: his immediate one, his local community and his military “band of brothers and sisters.”

“There is a pain we feel today, a pain that no pill can take away,” Huerta said.

Huerta added that he believed Choi would not have thought his life was “wasted,” and said those who survived Choi should continue to fight for the freedom the young man defended so that his death would not be in vain.

“He knew that all of God's children deserved a shot at life. … So Private Min could not, would not, settle for just his family being safe, his nation being safe, his community being safe,” Huerta said.

Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney presented Jae Wha Choi with a Gold Star Mothers Flag, and Army Major General Michael R. Mazzucchi of the communications-electronics command presented the family with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Min Choi, who wanted a career in law enforcement and was attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City when he joined the Army, also was made an honorary River Vale police officer yesterday.

Angela Harris, wife of Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. Harris, the commander of Choi's 8th Cavalry Regiment, presented Choi's parents and sister with dog tags bearing an engraved picture of their loved one on one side and, on the reverse, the words “Fallen But Never Forgotten.”

At the end of the service, mourners lined up inside the auditorium to express condolences to the family. Each person walked past a picture of a uniformed Min Choi that was placed in front of American and South Korean flags.

Frank LoPiccolo hugged the Chois, who are his neighbors.

“It's a sad day,” LoPiccolo said after the service. “I'm hoping that everyone who came here and everybody else in the country appreciates what Min Soo did. He gave up his life.”

Jackie Basralian, who for two years taught Choi English for nonnative speakers, and Jane Barch, who taught him English, smiled as they reminisced about their student.

“He was a wonderful, respectful, happy, beautiful young man,” Basralian said.

Barch agreed.

“And we're smiling,” she said, “because he always smiled, and he had a beautiful demeanor, elegant and respectful, the kind of boy it was a pleasure to have. It's a great loss.”

A second funeral service for Choi will be today at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Taps and tears for a hero


Major General Michael Mazzucchi presenting Jae Wha Choi with the flag that
draped the casket of her son, Min Soo Choi.

Min Soo Choi's different worlds came together Monday.

Standing before Choi's silver casket at Arlington National Cemetery, a chaplain spoke of duty, honor and sacrifice.

A South Korean minister spoke of salvation and resurrection for the 21-year-old native son.

Meanwhile, attendees from River Vale, where the Choi family lives, bowed their heads in respect as many gathered sang “Rock of Ages” in Korean.

A lone bugler played taps. A boy wearing black knelt and prayed. Seven soldiers fired three volleys of gunfire. Together, South Koreans and New Jerseyans wept openly.

“Today, we have come to rest an American patriot,” said the chaplain, Kenneth Kerr.

Army Private First Class Min Soo Choi arrived in Iraq in January and was killed by an explosive device a month later. He was just two years removed from his Pascack Valley High School graduation.

As wind swept through the vast, open greenscape, where the white marble headstones are in perfect rows, those gathered still struggled with the tragedy.

But at Arlington National Cemetery – thousands of miles from South Korea – Choi was, in a way, home. Seven years after his family immigrated, Choi was a U.S. soldier, laid to rest in America's most sacred burial ground.

“I said to him before he left, ‘You are our future,'Ÿ” said Jung Choi, the soldier's father.

Choi was buried alongside 290,000 others – many of them soldiers who, like him, died in a war. Fifty-five are foreign nationals.

Choi's war was Iraq. More than 1,500 Americans have died in the two-year-old conflict; 120 are interred at Arlington. Choi was the 36th who lived in New Jersey, and the first native of South Korea to die serving America in Iraq. On Monday, he took his place near President John F. Kennedy, the Tomb of the Unknowns and many other dignitaries.

Like Kennedy, Choi saw the blood and turmoil of war. During his month in Iraq, he told people how proud he was to be a U.S. soldier.

In the end, the family buried Choi as an honorary U.S. citizen, a status he had received a day earlier. He would not have wanted it any other way, said those who knew him.

“It was an honor chosen for a son who gave up his life for America,” said Jack Carbone, a River Vale attorney who helped with the arrangements.

Like the other headstones, Choi's will be small, white and marble, one of a vast field of markers that seem to stretch endlessly.

They are lined in formation, as though the soldiers are ready to march into battle again.

The first American military service member in the cemetery's 624 acres was buried on May 13, 1864. Nearly every conflict is represented.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, those typically buried at Arlington were years removed from battle. But the wars to defeat terrorism and democratize Iraq have changed that.

Many here now are like Choi, who played golf at Pascack Valley High School just three years ago. They're 19, 20, 21 – barely out of high school. Now they're heroes.

All are honored ceremonially at Arlington under strict military protocol.

Many officers get full honors. Others who enlisted, such as Choi, get standard honors.

At Choi's burial, there was no horse-drawn carriage. But for the family, and for those in River Vale, the ceremony was no less deep and moving.

From the time the black hearse pulled up at 1 p.m., the mood was solemn and quiet. Barely a word was spoken as the leaves on the one tree that still had leaves rustled in the wind.

From two buses, some 50 people walked, slowly, toward the hearse. A man carrying Choi's picture stood in front. Many of those behind him held long-stem red roses.

Six pallbearers grasped the flag-draped casket, stepping carefully toward the grave.

Then they removed the American flag and held it, flat. The flag flapped in the wind.

“We honor our fallen patriots. America's Army has chosen its finest,” said Kerr, the cemetery chaplain.

Then came the Korean sermon, and a hymn.

Speaking in Korean, Harry Hurh, a family friend, thanked everyone. He ended his speech with “God Bless America.”

After the military gave Choi's family their son's Bronze Star and Purple Heart, those gathered laid the roses on the casket, then returned to their seats and stared straight ahead.

From the casket, soldiers folded the American flag into a triangle and gave it to Choi's mother, Jae Wha.

She moved it to her chest, hugged it like a baby and wept.

Sacrifice of 2 Soldiers Honored at Arlington
Different Paths Led to Service in Iraq


One soldier was following family tradition, joining the Army right out of high school. The other soldier was not a U.S. citizen, but he wanted to serve his new country after emigrating from South Korea. He, too, enlisted.

Yesterday, Staff Sergeant Daniel G. Gresham, 23, and Private First Class Min Soo Choi, 21, casualties of Operation Iraqi Freedom, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery in separate ceremonies.

“Today, we come together to lay to rest another patriot,” said Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Kerr, an Army Chaplain, gusts of wind carrying his words to the mourners seated before Choi's coffin.

Choi, of River Vale, New Jersey, was assigned to the Army's 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Georgia. He was killed Feb. 26 in Abertha, Iraq, when an explosive device detonated while he was on patrol in a Humvee.

Also killed in the attack was Private Landon S. Giles, 19, of Indiana, Pennsylvania.

According to news reports, Choi wanted to become an Army officer and was looking forward to obtaining his U.S. citizenship. He was killed less than a month after arriving in Iraq.

Choi's family emigrated from Seoul seven years ago. After coming to America, Choi spent several years learning English.

“My son said he needed to serve our country,” Choi's father, Jong Choi, told the Journal News of Westchester County, New York,

Yesterday, family and friends sang a hymn in Korean before placing dozens of long-stemmed red roses at his grave.

An hour later, Choi's grave and the blanket of flowers adorning it would become the backdrop for Gresham's graveside memorial.

Gresham, of Lincoln, Illinois, was assigned to the 797th Ordnance Company (explosive ordinance disposal), 79th Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordinance, Fort Sam Houston, Tex. He was killed February 24, 2005, at Camp Wilson, Iraq, when an explosive device detonated while he was responding to another blast.

“There are 150,000 kids over there,” Gresham's father, Gene Gresham, told the Pantagraph newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois, shortly after learning of his son's death. “Twelve hundred of them have died. Who would have guessed one of them would be mine?”

Gene Gresham told the Pantagraph it was a family tradition to do a tour of duty with the Army. He said the last family member killed in action was an uncle who died in World War I.

His son's loss, he said, was a devastation. “I haven't stopped crying since I heard it,” he said.

Gresham's funeral was held under warm, blue skies and was attended by dozens of friends and relatives who wept as taps whispered through the leafless trees.

Also attending the service was Major General Antonio M. Taguba, who wrote a report detailing the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Yesterday, Choi and Gresham were posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.


They were the 120th and 121st service members killed in Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The total number of U.S. military personnel killed in the Iraq war as of yesterday morning was 1,499, including four civilian Defense Department employees.

Immigrant Serving in Iraq Falls Before Realizing Ultimate Goal

He was the guy with the “big, beautiful, gracious smile.” His calm, mature demeanor put those around him at ease. Just being around him made you feel safe, say those who knew Min Soo Choi.

Mostly, people remember that Min Soo loved his sister. He took his role as big brother seriously. Before leaving for Iraq with the U.S. Army in January, Min Soo visited his old high school, where Mirry was in her senior year, and asked his guidance counselor for a favor. Take care of my baby sister, he said.

The bond between Min Soo and Mirry was “immeasurable,” said Vincent Paolini, the counselor at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, New Jersey.

A month after Min Soo was deployed, he and another soldier — both with the 8th Cavalry of the 3rd Infantry’s 6th Squadron — were killed Feb. 26 while on patrol in Abertha, 20 miles from Baghdad, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Defense.

He was 21.

Min Soo went overseas in pursuit of a dream — a job as a Federal Bureau of Investigations agent. The 2003 Pascack Valley High graduate had barely finished his first semester at John Jay College in New York, where he was studying criminology, when he decided to enlist.

The U.S. Army, Choi believed, would be a one-way ticket to obtaining American citizenship, a prerequisite for any law enforcement position. But by the time he was deployed, joining the military was more than just a means to an end.

“He was just very proud to serve his country,” said Jacqueline Basralian, Min Soo’s former teacher.

The U.S. government posthumously awarded him citizenship during a March 6 memorial service held at his alma mater. The 58th immigrant soldier killed in Iraq to be granted citizenship, Min Soo was later buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Hundreds, including federal officials and international dignitaries, attended the service in Hillsdale.

“He had only been in this country for a short while, but we all know you loved America,” said New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, as he handed the naturalization certificate to the fallen soldier’s family. “Thank you, Min Soo, and your family, for contributing to the well-being of our nation.”

Min Soo was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, a Good Conduct Medal and a Combat Infantry Badge. The River Vale Police Department declared him an honorary police officer and gave his family a badge, according to published reports.

In eulogies, Min Soo’s friends recounted that they tried to talk him out of his decision to join the military. But he was resolute.

“I saw his sister in the hallway one day in the fall, and I asked her, ‘How’s Min Soo?’” Basralian recalled. “She said, ‘He’s in the Army now, and he’ll be going to Iraq soon.’ I just looked stunned and asked, ‘How do your parents feel about that?’ She said, ‘Well, it’s his decision.’ It was something he felt he had to do.”

Min Soo had thought long and hard about enlisting.

“His decision wasn’t made on impulse,” said Ji Ha Lee in a eulogy. “He did not want fear of the impending war to stop him from achieving what he wanted to in life.”

Joining the military was, among the mostly white, upper-middle class, New Jersey suburb, an unusual choice. Pascack Valley High graduates almost invariably went on to prestigious four-year colleges, Basralian said.

“He had a sense of maturity about him,” she said. “A very calm demeanor. You always felt very reassured when you were in his presence. Because of that manner, I think he would have done well [in law enforcement].”

To honor the graduate who chose the road less traveled, the high school newspaper printed a memorial edition celebrating Min Soo’s life. Featured in the special issue of The Smoke Signal are essays by former teachers, counselors and friends about the kid who, having immigrated to the United States in middle school, barely knew English but eventually graduated from the advanced English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.

He was “popular in a quiet way,” said Basralian, who teaches ESL. “He came to me in the ninth grade when he spoke very little English. I had the pleasure of watching him develop and flourish, and he did so with good humor. He always had the most respectful demeanor. He was a fun student to have in class. Delightful. Hardworking. And as he learned more English, you realized he had an impish sense of humor.”

The memorial edition also featured Mirry’s college-entrance essay, in which she wrote about her brother.

“Mirry was just so attached to him,” Basralian said. “He was a really loving big brother. Just a lovely, very fine family.”

Also featured in the special issue, she said, are photos of Choi in various sports. Choi was, in true Korean fashion, a member of the school’s golf and soccer teams.

Choi, ever an optimistic dreamer who put others first, is surely “watching over us in heaven,” Lee eulogized. “You wanted to protect the people and the country you loved. And the marks you have left on each and every one of us is like footsteps on our heart.”


An Honor guard carry the coffin containing the remains of Army Pfc. Min Soo Choi, during a funeral ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, March 7, 2005


Pallbearers carry the coffin containing the remains of Army Pfc. Min Soo Choi, during a funeral ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, March 7, 2005,


Mother of Army Pfc. Min Soo Choi, Jae D. Choi, second left, and father Jong Choi, third left, weep as the Taps is played during a funeral ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, March 7, 2005,


Mother of Army Pfc. Min Soo Choi, Jae D. Choi, center, weeps as she is presented with the U.S. flag that draped her son's coffin, by Maj. Gen. Michael Mazzucchi, left, during a funeral ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 01/28/1984
  • DATE OF DEATH: 02/26/2005


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