|From New Jersey Star
Grief and anger, side by side
NEWARK RECLAIMS A FALLEN SOLDIER
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
BY KATIE WANG
To those who knew him, Joe Luis Baines was a teenager who viewed the Army as his ticket off the streets of Newark.
To those who didn't know him, he was another fallen hero, another casualty in a war that is growing increasingly unpopular among Americans.
Both of those camps -- relatives and strangers -- gathered yesterday in the city to honor Baines in a 90-minute funeral service suffused with anger, anguish and disbelief over his death in Iraq.
Baines, 19, was killed in Taji, north of Baghdad, Dec. 16 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee, according to the military. The Newark native was the 65th member of the armed services with links to New Jersey to die in the Iraq war.
Yesterday there were nearly as many strangers as relatives who spoke at Baines' memorial service at the James E. Churchman Jr. Funeral Home.
Donna Jackson, a community activist, discouraged youngsters from enlisting in the military. Ira Belsky, a Franklin Lakes resident who is against the war, said he came to pay tribute to Pfc. Baines' memory as a soldier, even though he did not know him. Newark Mayor Cory Booker called Baines an angel.
"He is dead and gone, but his principles are not gone," the mayor said. "They live on."
Before the service started, Yolanda Torres hovered over the half-open casket and embraced her son one final time.
Relatives remembered Baines as a smiley teen who enjoyed macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, poetry, basketball and singing. He grew up in the city's South Ward and attended Louise A. Spencer School through the eighth grade.
In September 2005, he enlisted in the Army after graduating from Summit Quest Academy, a program for troubled youth in Ephrata, Pa. Sgt. Gigi Y. Theocharides, a recruiter in Bloomfield, said Baines yearned to be a soldier.
"When he left, he left a young man, but when he came back, he was a soldier," she said.
His aunt, Santinah Brito, said Baines wanted to escape the streets but that in the end it didn't matter, because he wound up dead anyway.
"I would have rather him get killed in front of Jersey Fried Chicken than out in Iraq," Brito said.
Addressing Booker, she said: "You've got to find a way for everybody who thinks this is the way out. It's not. He left because he was scared of being killed here in Newark."
Booker, sitting in the front corner near the casket, did not respond.
Baines completed his training at Fort Benning, Ga., and was assigned as an infantryman to the 2nd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas. He was deployed to Iraq on Oct. 29 with the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
He planned on meeting up in Iraq with his girlfriend, Tiffany Brinson, who is also in the Army, said Brinson's mother, Tracey Hairiston, who was Baines' godmother.
"What hurts me the most is that my daughter has to leave in a week" for Iraq, she told the somber gathering. "You go back for him. You stand for him because he would've did it for you."
Carol Baines, 18, said she spoke to her brother several days before he was killed. "He said he didn't want to be there," she said.
Her brother always tried to put on a happy face and was always encouraging to those around him, she said.
"Those Bloods and Crips don't have the heart my brother had," she said.
Others, however, struck an angry tone, directing their grief toward Washington and President Bush.
"I feel betrayed now for the simple fact that so many young people are going to defend our country and they're not coming home," said Ebonie Postles. "It's just wrong."
Following the service, the Army honor guard carried Baines' casket from the funeral home and escorted it to nearby Fairmount Cemetery, where Baines was given a 21-gun salute.
Baines also was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service.
Katie Wang can be reached at kwang[at}starledger.com