Family, Guard remember 'a leader and a great guy'

Spc. John Barbato's remains are carried from Powell Spc. John Barbato's remains are carried from Powell Funeral Home to a waiting hearse by fellow members of the New York National Guard's 69th Infantry Division. (Sept. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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As rain fell Tuesday, the sound of a trio of guns cut the still at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale. Muffled sobs floated in the humid morning air, including some from the dozens of uniformed New York Army National Guard soldiers in attendance.

Tuesday, members of the Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment joined the family of Spc. John J. Barbato in burying one of their own.

Barbato, 27, who survived a suicide bomb attack while deployed in Afghanistan in 2008, died Friday at an inpatient clinic at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.

"He was a leader and a great guy, a man who lived up to Army values," said Guard Capt. Lou Delli-Pizzi, who presented burial flags to Barbato's parents during the solemn graveside ceremony. "It's a tragic loss."

Barbato's father, Joseph Barbato, of Massapequa, said his son had been at the hospital receiving treatment for severe post-traumatic stress disorder since April 16. He said the cause of death has not been determined.

Barbato, a South Shore native who earned a high school equivalency degree after attending West Babylon High School, joined the Guard in 2005 or 2006, his family said.

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In 2008, Barbato was among 300 members of the 69th Infantry who were sent to Afghanistan to train Afghan troops.

Described by his military colleagues as a dependable soldier with leadership qualities, Barbato was operating a Humvee turret gun when his convoy was attacked by a suicide bomber.

The blast briefly hospitalized Barbato with a head injury, his father said, and left him so shaken that for a week he could not walk without losing his balance. The blast also injured a fellow soldier, Seamus Byrne, a close friend from Smithtown.

Barbato returned from Afghanistan when his unit's deployment ended in 2009 but struggled to readjust to civilian life, family and fellow soldiers said.

Then, in February 2011, Byrne, 33, who also struggled with PTSD, was struck by a car and killed outside a restaurant as he left a birthday party in his honor.

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Barbato took his friend's death hard. "John never got over that," his father said.

Barbato worked various jobs, including as a full-time soldier at the National Guard Armory in Bay Shore, and a stint at a West Islip towing company that lasted a few months.

But he often battled sleeplessness, his father said, and found it impossible to remain employed.

Soldiers who served with him in Afghanistan said his unexplained death following his struggle with war-related demons has been hard to accept.

"It's always worse when someone makes it through combat and passes here," said Spc. Christopher Murray, 28, of Westchester County.

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In addition to his father and stepmother, Louise, Barbato is survived by his mother, Helen Kirschbaum, of Babylon; brothers Joseph of Shirley, Anthony of Massapequa, and Thomas Kirschbaum of Babylon; and stepsisters Katie Frampton of Babylon and Jackie Castma of Pittsburgh.

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