Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday in Orland Park to pay their final respects to a 19-year-old American hero killed earlier this month in Afghanistan.
Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen was one of five American service members killed this month when a U.S. airstrike was called in to help defend against a Taliban ambush. A visitation was held Monday evening at Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park. His funeral was held at the same church.
"This is an especially hard day for our family," said Toppen's Uncle Jack Winter. "He grew up to want to be on the right side of history, to make a positive difference in the world, and indeed he did."
The teen joined the Army before finishing high school at Lincoln-Way East High School, and within two months of graduation, went into basic training.
"This was the life Aaron chose," said Pastor Tom Harlow. "This was something he was called to do."
The soldier's father died unexpectedly in February, leaving surviving family members and friends trying to make sense of the dual tragedies.
"We really believe that Aaron and Ron are together and we really believe that they're in a better place," said Harlow.
On Saturday, dozens of cars and motorcycles decorated with American flags took part in a procession to accompany Toppen's remains after his casket arrived at Chicago's Midway International Airport. Crowds of people then stood saluting and waving flags along the 20-mile route to Mokena.