TAMPA, Fla. — On Wednesday evening, the casket of a U.S. Army soldier arrived at Tampa International Airport.
Specialist Nicholas Panipinto, 20, died last week when the Bradley Fighting vehicle he was in overturned.
Panipinto was from Bradenton, Florida and assigned to the Fort Hood-based 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division., and joined the Army in January of 2018.
His family gathered as the plane arrived with his casket.
Strangers inside the plane waited as strangers inside the airport watched.
The procession started at the airport and continued to Manatee County. Hundreds lined the streets, waving American flags.
Kieth Stonestreet says he grew up with Panipinto's father. They attended the same high school.
"Freedom is not free. We're able to live the way we do because of the American soldier, not all of them make it back alive," Stonestreet said. "I know the family just from growing up around here. Nick's father was actually my mentor in high school. A great family from what I remember."
Anthony Panipinto, Nick's father, said he his son loved to laugh, fish and hunt.
"I never imagined any of this. He was supposed to be safe on a base, training on a base," Panipinto said.
The burial will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 2 p.m. at Sarasota National Cemetery.
This story was originally published by Julie Salomone on WFTS in Tampa, Florida.