Family members said the Shelter Island native had always wanted to be a soldier. They just wish Army Lt. Joseph Theinert had been able to come home alive.
Theinert, 24, a 2004 graduate of Shelter Island High School, died in Afghanistan's southern province of Kandahar Thursday when his vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, an uncle said Saturday.
"My biggest regret is we didn't get to see each other as often as we used to," said the uncle, John Skovira, of Park Ridge, N.J. "The only consolation I have is he was doing what he wanted to do."
Coffin arrives at Dover
Theinert was the second soldier from the East End to die in Iraq or Afghanistan. In April 2008, Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 19, a native of Sag Harbor, and a fellow Marine were killed in Iraq when they fended off a truck bomb that was targeting a compound in Ramadi that housed scores of Marines and Iraqi police.
At least 13 Long Islanders have been killed in the war in Afghanistan, according to a Newsday tabulation.
Theinert had earned his commission through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program at the University at Albany, where he studied history before graduating last spring, Skovira said.
"We have no informants right now," Theinert told an Agence France-Presse reporter in the Kandahar village of Berlanday. "We're still working on it. We have been here a month.
"They'll eventually come around," Theinert said. "They don't know you. They don't trust you when you first arrive."
Remembered by friend
Saturday, his friend Anthony Rando, 22, spoke about how Theinert helped him overcome the isolation he felt after moving to the close-knit Shelter Island community eight years ago. Later, when Rando's family planned to open their Sweet Tomato's restaurant, Theinert spent months helping them renovate.
"Him and his brother Jimbo were one of the first people to befriend me and make me feel comfortable on the island," Rando said. "I could always depend on him."
Theinert's maternal grandfather, Joseph Skovira, a 50-year resident of Hempstead, was a Pearl Harbor survivor. From 1946 to 1978, he operated Zoli's, a Hempstead restaurant popular with Mitchel Air Force base aviators. He died in 1994.
A strapping 6-foot-3 athlete, Theinert played high school basketball and lacrosse, said Rando, a teammate on the school's cross-country team.
Basketball coach Mike Mundy praised the slain soldier Saturday as a man of solid values who possessed a social consciousness.
"He was just what you'd expect a kid who would grow up to be an officer to be," Mundy said.
"He was just a real good kid," Mundy said. "And he was too young."
With Denise M. Bonilla