Dubuque National Guard veteran laid to rest - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque National Guard veteran laid to rest

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

A Dubuque veteran was laid to rest Tuesday, after succumbing to cancer.

Andrew Connolly served with the Iowa Army National Guard and died Friday at the age of 28.

Thanks to him, disabled veterans may see extended funding for a housing assistance program.

In May, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) introduced the Andrew Connolly Veterans' Housing Act, which would extend for five more years an assistance program aimed at helping disabled veterans afford accessible housing.

The proposed legislation passed in the House and is now awaiting Senate approval.

Connolly's cancer of the spine left him paralyzed from the chest down, and the assistance program allowed him and his family to move into a wheelchair-accessible home for part of what turned out to be the final year of his life.

Connolly had said doctors told him the tumor was service-related. He got the initial diagnosis in February of 2009.

Jim Wagner is with Disabled American Veterans and got to know Connolly through the Veterans' Freedom Center in Dubuque.

"He started coming down to the center, and we got to be real good friends," Wagner said. "In fact, he got to be friends with everybody down there."

Wagner attended Connolly's services Tuesday.

"He made a statement to me the one time," Wagner said, of Connolly. "He said, 'You know, I'd stay in this wheelchair the rest of my life if I could just live.'"

At Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Key West, there were full military honors for Connolly.

Fellow service members, such as Sgt. Leo Pins with the Iowa National Guard, came to pay their respects to a man who went above and beyond.

"I got to see what he was like as a soldier and as a leader, and he always made sure his soldiers knew exactly what they were doing," Pins said. "He even went outside and made sure soldier that weren't his, that they knew what they were doing."

Connolly's wife Jennifer and their three-year-old son Brody received the flag from the casket. Brody has congenital myasthenic syndrome, a neuromuscular disorder that requires a wheelchair and 24-hour ventilator.

"Jen and Brody were part of the family with the DAV, also. She was our hero," Wagner said.

Mourners said they'll remember Connolly's sense of humor.

"Seems like anybody and everybody that was part of the National Guard knew him," Pins said. "He was always high spirits, and it seemed like nothing could bring him down."

"He taught us probably more than we taught him. He was really quite the guy," Wagner said.

In May, Connolly testified before the Congressional Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. He stressed the importance of veterans' housing grant programs.

"It is my hope," he testified, "the adaptive housing grants program can be extended so that our brave soldiers get the assistance they deserve, so they can live as self-sufficiently as possible.

You can read the full text of Connolly's statement HERE.

"I'm hoping that Andrew's compelling life story and the way he lived his life will be the motivation we need to get these programs extended for the next generation of disabled veterans," Rep. Braley said Tuesday in a phone call from Dallas.

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