As thunder boomed, lightning crackled and an honor guard fired volleys into the air, family and friends gathered around a kiosk at the Bay Pines National Cemetery to bid a final farewell to a beloved soldier.
Army Sgt. Thongpane Thongdeng, who lost a leg to the war in Afghanistan and touched the lives of many during his often-grueling rehabilitation, was honored as a husband, father and a man who sacrificed much in service to his country.
Known affectionately as “TD” by those who treated him at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Thongdeng, 34, was found dead in his St. Petersburg apartment late last month. Police say there were no signs of foul play and the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner’s Office is awaiting the result of toxicology tests before determining a cause of death.
After being injured when his armored vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in 2010, Thongdeng made a tough decision later and had his mangled right leg amputated. While he was undergoing treatment at Haley one day in November, 2012, someone broke into his apartment, stealing his new MacBook Pro, his Xbox, lots of other electronics, jewelry and even food from his refrigerator. Tampa Police officers investigating the crime kicked in their own money to purchase new electronics for Thongdeng and Operation Helping Hand contributed another $2,000 to a soldier who had spent a good deal of his time working with others.
“TD was an inspiration,” Ed Cutolo, Haley’s chief of staff, said while standing in a light drizzle after the ceremony Wednesday morning. “We did his promotion ceremony here. He was part of our family. He will be missed.”