BRADENTON, Fla. (WWSB) - It was a very emotional night. A large crowd gathered to remember a soldier’s life cut way too short.
The body of Nicholas Panipinto returned home to Bradenton Wednesday night. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge was lit up in red, white and blue in his honor and people paid their respects on the route from Tampa International Airport to Manatee County.
The 20-year-old Army soldier received a hero’s welcome from people lining up Manatee Avenue West.
This video from the Bradenton Fire Department shows the procession from above, as seen from Tower 419:
"Hearing about a local kid here and the idea behind what he was doing and serving his country and losing his life so tragically, just being here for support for his family and his friends is really important to us,” said Amanda Webb, a Bradenton resident and an Army wife.
Panipinto, an infantryman, attended Manatee High School was assigned to 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, after joining the Army in January 2018. He deployed with the brigade to South Korea in July 2019.
He died last week in South Korea during a training exercise when his fighting vehicle had overturned.
His father, Anthony Panipinto, said all his son ever wanted to do was fight for his country. He thought of his son’s duties as the driver of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle as safe.
“That was regarded as safe. It’s South Korea. It’s safe. Everything was perfect. The Bradley rolls, flips, and he’s the only one that dies out of five guys. It’s just unreal.”
Stripes.com reports two others were injured but were released with non-life threatening injuries. Two others in the vehicle were seen by medical staff as a precaution. The accident remains under investigation.
This moving tribute from the Bradenton Police Department shows a flag being raised in his honor:
Thousands of people honoring him during the processional and with a candlelight vigil.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think my little post that I put out to all meet at Publix for lighting the way would turn out like this,” said Meshia Richardson, Chairperson of Wreaths Across America.
Richardson put out a call on Facebook for people to gather and her post was shared hundreds of times, bringing out the community to line the street.
“When you have a mother who has just lost their child, the least that we can do is to come and offer any comfort that we can to the family, the community,” said Karen Ferris Fearnside with Blue Star Mothers.
At this time we have yet to receive any funeral details. Nicholas Panipinto will be laid to rest on Wednesday, November 20 at 2pm at Sarasota National Cemetery.