BEVERLY — A 25-year-old soldier from Beverly was killed on Monday when his truck drove over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, becoming the city's first wartime fatality since Vietnam.
Stephen Fortunato, a 2002 Beverly High School graduate, died on his first day back on patrol since returning to Afghanistan from a 19-day leave at home, said his mother, Elizabeth Crawford of Beverly. She was informed of her son's death by two soldiers who came to her house on Cleveland Road on Tuesday night.
"He was a brave soldier," she said. "He died doing what he wanted to do. He was anxious to get back there to help his unit."
Spc. Fortunato was in the U.S. Army's 26th Infantry Regiment and worked as a gunner on the back of a Humvee. He had served in Afghanistan since July.
His wife, Sherri, said it was always Fortunato's dream to be in the Army. When he enlisted three years ago, his entry had to be delayed because he still had braces on his teeth.
Sherri, 22, described her husband as a caring person who loved his family and his pet python, Max.
"He was always trying to make people laugh," she said. "He was always the funny guy. Even in a bad moment, he always tried to make good of it. He always said everything happens for a reason."
Fortunato grew up in Beverly and attended schools in Danvers before graduating from Beverly High School in 2002. His great uncle, the late Peter Fortunato, was a three-term mayor of Beverly from 1978 to 1983. Another great uncle, Armand Fortunato, is a former Beverly schools superintendent.
Shortly after he married Sherri Favaloro of Gloucester on Sept. 10, 2006, Fortunato shipped out to Korea to complete a one-year tour. He then served at Fort Hood, Texas, where he lived with Sherri. In July, he was sent to Afghanistan.
Sherri said she talked to her husband by telephone last Friday and got an e-mail from him on Monday, the day he died.
"It doesn't make sense," she said.
Jerry Guilebbe, the city's veterans' agent, said Fortunato is the first Beverly soldier to die in combat since the Vietnam War.
In addition to his wife and mother, Stephen is survived by his father, Richard, who lives in Florida; two brothers, Joseph, 23, and Anthony, 20, both of Beverly; and his grandmother, Veronica Fortunato, of Beverly.