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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Spc. Nicholas P. Steinbacher, 22, La Crescenta; killed by roadside bomb while on patrol in Baghdad

December 31, 2006|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

It was the last parade for Army Spc. Nicholas P. Steinbacher of La Crescenta, an infantryman killed earlier this month by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

On Dec. 20, as his funeral procession slowly traveled from Crippen Mortuary to St. James the Less Catholic Church, thousands of people from his hometown lined the 2 1/2 -mile route.

They included veterans, firefighters, police officers, local merchants, former classmates, high school athletes and friends. Many held American flags. All stood in silence as the motorcade passed.

"It was phenomenal. In the middle of a Wednesday just before the holidays, people with plenty to do turned out to pay their respects," said Steinbacher's father, Paul. "It was a comfort for the family and a tribute to my son."

Steinbacher was killed Dec. 10 when a bomb exploded near his Humvee while he was on a night patrol in Baghdad. Just two days before, he had celebrated his 22nd birthday.

Steinbacher was assigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Calvary Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas. His comrades described him as the spirit of their unit.

He is among 305 U.S. service members from California who have been killed in the Iraq conflict, according to the website icasualties.org, which compiles Defense Department statistics. The state has had the most military fatalities in the war since it began March 19, 2003.

Steinbacher graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 2003. For two years, he played center for the Falcons varsity football team. His number was 51, the same as that of his father and brother Dan, 23, who both attended the school. His brother Kirk, 18, also made the team.

Alan Eberhart of Glendale, Crescenta Valley's football coach, described Steinbacher as "a fun-loving kid" who never let anything bother him.

"I was deeply saddened by his death," Eberhart said. "We've had a number of kids die recently -- three from his team and a coach. It's been hard for us. But I am proud of him. This was something he wanted to do, and he died fighting for our country."

Eberhart said the turnout of La Crescenta residents for Steinbacher's funeral was one of the most amazing things he has ever experienced.

"I was at the back of the procession," he said. "Thousands of people were on the street. Young and old. People who knew him and people who didn't. The community really came out for this young man."

Steinbacher joined the Army on Dec. 24, 2004, a few credits short of earning an associate in arts degree from College of the Canyons.

"He did not like injustices," his father said. "After 9/11, he felt there were things that needed to be done. He wanted to enlist right away, but we wanted him to go to college for a couple of years. It was a well-thought-out choice."

Steinbacher was sent to Iraq two months ago and assigned the dangerous work of patrolling the neighborhoods of Baghdad. His mother, Carolyn, and the rest of the family were concerned about the deployment.

"But the more nervous we got for Nick, the more excited he got," said his brother Dan. "He was proud to be going."

Steinbacher's military decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and service ribbons.

Though he had contemplated becoming a police officer after leaving the military, his father said he had been considering the Army as a career.

After basic training, Steinbacher attended paratrooper school but fractured a leg on the first jump. Nevertheless, he began skydiving after his rehabilitation and transfer to Ft. Hood.

"It was an immediate passion," his father said. "It would light up his face when he talked about it. A lot of things lit him up, but skydiving was pretty high on the list. He could not wait to take the whole family."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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