Army Staff Sgt. Thomas E. Vitagliano was killed, along with another member of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, by a car bomb on Jan. 17, 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq. He was 33 and had been engaged to marry.
A West Haven native is the latest in a growing number of soldiers killed in the beleaguered city of Ramadi, Iraq, where a fierce insurgency has been busy in the weeks before the Iraqi election.
Staff Sgt. Thomas E. Vitagliano, 33, was killed Monday by a car bomb, the Department of Defense reported. Officials with the Connecticut National Guard went to the home of his West Haven parents that night to tell them.
The family declined to talk publicly Wednesday, instead issuing a statement through a deacon of their church.
"Tommy's life revolved around family - his family here at home, and his military family with which he served and shared the bonds of family," they said. "His family asks for your prayers for themselves, and for all families who have lost loved ones in the service of their country."
They added: "And pray for peace."
Vitagliano died with another soldier from his unit - Pfc. George R. Geer. Early reports from coalition officials said they died "conducting security and stability operations." The Reuters news agency on Monday reported that soldiers had been investigating a potential car bomb. But Agence France Presse reported that witnesses described a suicide bomber driving into a military convoy in the center of the city.
The deaths are the latest of many for 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, an "air assault" group with the 2nd Infantry Division that had been based in South Korea before being transferred to Iraq duty.
It also marks the first casualty of 2005 for Connecticut. At least 22 members of the military with ties to the state have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Vitagliano's parents, Gaetano Thomas Vitagliano and Inger Lise Severine, and a brother and a sister, await the arrival of his remains before they plan services. The soldier's body will be taken to a facility in Dover, Del., before being moved to Connecticut as early as next week.
Before his service in Iraq, Vitagliano, who was not married, was with his unit in South Korea, said John Hoffman, a deacon at Holy Infant Church in West Haven who is speaking for the family.
A story Tuesday in Stars and Stripes, which covers the U.S. military, detailed his unit's four months in Ramadi - from civil projects and handing out food to trying to avoid suicide bombers and roadside bombs.
The soldiers have suffered frequent attacks from insurgents in the city of 400,000, which is in the volatile region sometimes called the Sunni Triangle. At least 10 soldiers in Vitigliano's battalion have been killed in Ramadi since November.
Col. Gary S. Patton, a commander of the brigade to which the battalion is attached, is quoted in Stars and Stripes as saying, "Now, we've established a security base in the city, and we're doing precision raids. We're getting good intel from the local population. When we first got here, that wasn't happening."
The story also said Iraqi commandos have been patrolling the downtown area alongside Vitagliano's battalion, getting ready for the elections.
Before joining the Army in 1990, Vitagliano had briefly served in the Marine Corps. Hoffman said he had also attended Virginia's Hargrave Military Academy.
"That's really where he made this connection to have his life in the military," Hoffman said.
Vitagliano was also a student at both Milford Academy and Notre Dame High School in West Haven.