Douglas Cordo Sr. said his son always knew he wanted to be a soldier, often dressing up as one while playing as a child.
After graduating from Kingston High School in 2009 and a short stint at Ulster Community College, Douglas Cordo joined the Army the following year. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Although the younger Cordo lived with his mother, Tracy Karson, in Kingston and called the city his home, his father, stepmother, and half-sister, Krystal, have lived in Ballston Spa for 10 years. His uncle, Barry Whitiker, lives in Burnt Hills.
“Our family has been estranged, but my mother and his uncle stayed very involved with little Doug all through school,” said Whitiker, whose first memory of his nephew was coming home from leave in the Air Force and holding an infant Doug after he was born.
The 20-year-old was killed in Zabul, Afghanistan, on Friday when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was driving a Stryker vehicle at the time of the attack and two others with him were injured. He had been in Afghanistan just five months.
Cordo Sr. said his son planned to make the military a career, but eventually wanted to further his education.
“He was a smart, ambitious, really caring person,” said his father. “If he started something, he’d finish it. Even as a little kid.”
Two soldiers came to Cordo’s home in Ballston Spa to tell him of the fate of his son. He described it as “surreal,” like something out of a movie.
“They said ‘We’re here on behalf of the United States Army.’ And I said ‘About Doug?’ They said ‘We don’t know how to tell you this, but your son was killed in action. He died a hero.’ ”
Cordo said he’s very proud of his son and he feels bad for anyone else who loses a child.
“You don’t know what it’s like until you have to go through it yourself,” he said.
The family is unsure when they will be able to give the younger Cordo a proper burial and where they will have to go to collect their son. Cordo Sr. believes he will be laid to rest in Kingston, where the majority of his friends and family still live.
Cordo said Doug’s 10-year-old half-sister, Krystal, is crushed.
“She always used to brag about him in school,” he said.
The family plans to create a small memorial in their backyard. It will contain a wishing well with Doug’s name and picture on it and Krystal will paint it.
“It will be some place for us to go and grieve,” said Cordo.
He described the whole situation as being like a dream and that everything hasn’t truly hit him yet. He feels like a piece of himself is missing.
The death has been extremely hard for Whitiker.
“I not only lost a nephew, but a fellow vet,” he said. “He’s an American hero. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and did it for love of his country and his beliefs.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed that flags on state government buildings be flown at half-staff Wednesday in honor of Cordo.
“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies to the friends, family, and fellow soldiers of Private First Class Cordo,” Cuomo said.
“We will mourn the loss of this New York soldier and we will remember his dedication to our nation.”
Cordo Sr. said one of the hardest things is thinking of all the milestones his son will miss.
“He didn’t have the chance to get married, or have kids. He was just so young,” he said.