ELWOOD, Ill. — A soldier who suffered catastrophic injuries while serving in Iraq nearly two decades ago has died and been laid to rest in northern Illinois with full military honors.

Former U.S. Army Sgt. Joel Gomez, 42, of Wheaton died Nov. 22 after developing pneumonia and kidney problems. Gomez, who had been living with quadriplegia since his wartime injury, was buried Tuesday at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.

He becomes one of more than 4,400 U.S. military members who have died from injuries suffered during the Iraq war, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Gomez’s spine was broken in two places in 2004 when the armored vehicle he was riding in plunged into the Tigris River during a combat mission to capture enemy soldiers.

At a Monday prayer service, friends and family described Gomez as a man who, despite his injuries, never lost his sense of humor nor his passion for learning.

“I learned a lot from Joey, but the thing I learned most was how great the human spirit was,” said his friend, Terry Masterson.

Gomez spent his last conscious days asking for his longtime caretaker, Elva Cuahquentzi, and dreaming about returning to the accessible home built for him by the Wheaton community.

Cuahquentzi had returned home to Mexico to deal with an immigration issue and had not yet been permitted to return to the U.S. Her departure forced Gomez to move into a nursing home last month, where he developed pneumonia within a few weeks of arriving at the facility.

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