By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/9/2004 7:48:09 PM ET 2004-12-10T00:48:09

They gathered by the thousands to pay their last respects — most of them firemen, but scores of National Guardsmen, too. That's because 39-year-old Chris Engledrum wore both uniforms with gusto and honor.

He was the steadying hand in a famous photograph of exhausted firemen raising a tattered flag amid the ruins of the World Trade Center. And he was the Gulf War veteran who chose to fight in another war a dozen years later. He was also the one who on one of Baghdad's especially bad days last week was killed by a roadside bomb.

No one person who knew Chris Engledrum was surprised that he put on his other uniform again, even at his age.  In fact, more than 100 New York firemen, not all of them young, have now served in Iraq.

Among them, fire department lieutenant and Amy Reserve Col. Neil Skow, who spent 11 months there.

"Doing that as a military [member] or firefighter or police officer, to me it basically serves the same purpose," says Skow.

And that made the loss the same for whoever wore either of Engledrum's uniforms.

"This is a family, an extended family," says New York firefighter Paul Allen. "And I lost a brother."

A senator, a governor, a mayor and an ex-mayor all paid their respects to the father of two whose widow is pregnant with a third child and whose oldest son, Sean, seemed to speak the thoughts of so many others.

"My Dad was always there when I needed help," said Sean.

He was the first on the rig and the last to leave the scene.

"Every time an alarm comes across you wish he was right there with you," says firefighter Darin Finnegan.

Chris Engledrum was the first New York firefighter to die in a war he believed beganthree Septembers ago. On Friday, he'll take one final journey to Arlington National Cemetery — where only heroes are laid to rest.

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