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Friends and family pay tribute to fallen Queens soldier

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The two-story-high American flag suspended from the ladders of two fire trucks last Thursday marked the funeral of a well-loved Cambria Heights Army National Guardsman killed in Afghanistan last month.

Guyanese-born Sgt. 1st Class Joseph McKay, 51, was among three guardsmen killed June 26 when their convoy hit improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades days before his 52nd birthday on July 4. Family, friends and military colleagues packed the seats at the Calvary Tabernacle Church in Hempstead, L.I., and those who spoke remembered a man with a ready smile who loved riding his bike and served his adopted country with dignity and pride.

"I am fortunate and blessed to have such a wonderful husband and friend. In the eyes of our family and friends you could do no wrong," his wife, Rose McKay, wrote in a letter that was read aloud during the ceremony. "Now who's going to tell me to eat, to rest, to drop and give me 10?"

McKay's sister, whose husband is also in the military, called him a loving brother and father.

"Joe has left me behind with pain in my heart, but he's with God and God will take care of me," she said, breaking a cappella into the gospel song "God Will Take Care of You" as the audience and musicians followed her lead.

Although many who spoke wiped away tears or had voices heavy with emotion, the choir, clad in purple and white robes, sang songs full of hope for a reunion in the next life.

McKay's flag-draped coffin bore a dual portrait of him in uniform and wearing a tuxedo, and stood next to one podium where speakers described a man whose dedication sometimes surprised them.

"A year ago I had called a meeting. And about 15 minutes before the meeting was due to begin I got a call from Joe aying he would be there," said McKay's former supervisor Sgt. Agard. "He came in a couple minutes after the hour, sweating, in his bike uniform. He had biked from Fort Hamilton to Jamaica Armory in about 20 minutes."

McKay, a much-decorated serviceman, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Conspicuous Service Cross and Combat Action Badge posthumously. He had served more than 30 years in the Army National Guard doing work at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks, guarding West Point and earning medals for good conduct, professional development and defense of liberty at the World Trade Center site.

He is survived by his wife, Rose McKay; children Tiffany, Ceon, Christopher and Shane; stepdaughter Tanisha; nine brothers; seven sisters; grandchildren; and numerous other relatives.

He was buried in the Long Island National Cemetery in Bay Shore, L.I.

"Sleep on, beloved Joe," his niece, Ann Bascom said, breaking down as she read McKay's obituary. "You are gone, but in our hearts you will live forever for the rest of our lives. You will never be forgotten."

Posted 6:40 pm, October 10, 2011
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