NEW YORK Family at the funeral of one of the youngest U.S. soldiers to die in the Iraq war remembered him on Tuesday as an enthusiastic boy from Trinidad whose love of guns and his adoptive country drew him into the army at 17.
Le Ron Wilson was killed in Iraq on July 6 when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. He was 18.
"He was a typical young boy who was fascinated with guns and the military, which seemed like a fun place to be," said his aunt Anne-Marie Charles, 53, outside the funeral service in Queens, New York where he grew up.
"He was too young to understand when we older ones were discouraging him about the consequences of war."
Under U.S military recruiting rules, a person aged 16 or 17 may enlist with parental authority. But recruits cannot go into combat until they are 18 -- the age established in a U.N. protocol as the minimum age for combat.
Several hundred people gathered for the service, where U.S. Army officers escorted Wilson's coffin to a cemetery in Long Island where he was buried alongside comrades who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Family members, including his father, traveled from his native Trinidad, which Wilson left when he was 11 to follow his mother to the United States.
Relatives said he had dreamed of following his father, Lawrence Wilson, a Cadet Force Major in Trinidad who wore his white uniform to the funeral, into the military.
His mother, Simona Francis, who cried into a white handkerchief at the burial, signed enlistment papers so her son could join the army before his 18th birthday after he hounded her, relatives said.
"He said 'If you don't do it Mum, I am going to go anyway when I'm 18," said his great aunt Rosslyn Nunes. "He was so respected, determined, strong, he got along with everybody."
Wilson enlisted in June, 2006, after graduating high school. He was sent to Iraq in May this year as a weapons repairman. On Tuesday he was awarded Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
A spokesperson at the Fort Stewart public affairs office said the Department of Defense did not keep track of who was the youngest soldier to die in Iraq.
More than 3,616 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the Iraq war began in March 2003.