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SE Queens soldier dies in combat

A Cambria Heights soldier born on July 4 died last week in Afghanistan when his convoy was attacked, the Defense Department said Sunday.

Sgt. 1st Class Joseph McKay, of 118-06 221st St. in Cambria Heights, was a member of the New York National Guard for 30 years. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry Regiment, based in Jamestown, N.Y.

McKay, 51, died June 26 near Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, after his convoy was attacked with improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the department said.

He was the second Queens soldier to die within five days in Afghanistan. Sgt. Andrew Seabrooks of South Ozone Park was killed June 21 in Kandahar after his Humvee was attacked with an improvised explosive device and small arms fire, the department said.

Tanisha Segre, McKay's stepdaughter, remembered him Monday as a "nice person all around" who rode his bike to work in Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

"He was loving, sharing, caring. He'd give you the world if he could," said Segre, 23, calling his death "so shocking."

McKay was scheduled to return home in September for a two-week break before heading back to Afghanistan, his stepdaughter said.

She said she spoke with McKay about three to four times a day.

"He kept saying everything would be all right and for me to take care of my mom and my brother," Segre said.

McKay's wife, Rose McKay, was too distraught to speak, her daughter said.

"He loved my mom daily," Segre said.

He did not convey any plans for what he wanted for his birthday on July 4, Segre said.

"He just wanted to know that we were OK and all right," his stepdaughter said.

Segre said McKay performed community service, often traveling to Manhattan to hand out sandwiches and drinks to the homeless in the subway.

"That was the kind of man he was," she said.

McKay moved his family from Elmont, L.I., to Cambria Heights six years ago so they could live in a better neighborhood, Segre said.

She said her stepfather enjoyed serving in the National Guard and believed in the cause he was fighting for.

"He thought he was doing the right thing and he loved what he was doing."

Three other soldiers were killed in the attack, including Spc. Mark C. Palmateer, 38, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who served in McKay's National Guard unit.

The four men were honored Monday at Camp Phoenix in Kabul for "their devotion to duty and the ideal of a greater good," said Col. Brian K. Balfe, the commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, where McKay was assigned to in Afghanistan.

McKay and the three other soldiers "each pursued the accomplishment of mission despite the danger that lay in front of them," he said. "Each spoke to us with their actions for which these four honorable men clearly speak louder than any words."

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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