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Engeldrum Born To Be A Hero

Courtesy of New York Post

Chris Engeldrum wanted to be a firefighter from the time he uttered his first words.

His grieving mom, Lenora, recalled yesterday how her son had had an obsession with the FDNY since childhood — often begging her to chase firetrucks while riding in the back seat of the family car.

"We always knew he'd end up being a fireman. One of our earliest memories of Chris is him wearing his fire hat and playing with his firetruck," she told The Post from her home in Las Cruces, N.M.

"He was an action kid — he just loved to play. I've always said he should have been born in the 1800s and gone out West with the cowboys and Indians."

Engeldrum, a 39-year-old married father of two, was killed on Monday when terrorists detonated a car bomb as he rode in convoy outside Baghdad.

The Army National Guard sergeant — a 1991 Gulf War veteran known to his pals as "Jungle Drum" — had put off his New York firefighting duties to help his old Army pals with the fight in Iraq.

He is the first of 103 city firefighters activated in Iraq to die in the war.

Engeldrum was born in New York on Nov. 19, 1965, living for a short time at the family home in Northport, L.I.

When he was 9, the family moved to California after his father, Philip, moved his magazine publishing business across the country.

He attended Ventura HS, spending his teenage years fishing, surfing, skateboarding, riding dirt bikes and cheering on the San Diego Chargers.

"He was a skinny little kid," Lenora said.

"He wasn't a great student but he was a very much liked by his friends and teachers. But Chris was an action man — he just needed action."

The firefighter wannabe was adored by his sisters, Leann and Kim, and got his kicks out of endless hours of talk with his uncle Bruce — a retired fire captain.

At 18, he left home and moved back to New York to work at the family gas station in The Bronx.

Soon after, while selling Christmas trees at the station, he bumped into Sharon Donohue — and it was love at first sight.

Lenora fondly recalled the day her son called home to relay the news he had met the woman he wanted to marry.

"He was crazy about her. He said: 'Mom, she reminds me of you.' She was a wonderful wife and a wonderful mother."

Together they raised two sons, Sean, 18, and Royce, 16.

"He raised them so well. He was such a great father — they have not given him a single day of trouble. They're both wonderful boys," Lenora said.

Lenora said her son's life changed in 1986 when, at age 21, he joined the Army. Four years later, he headed for Saudi Arabia with the 82nd Airborne.

He returned unscathed from the Gulf War to a job with the NYPD in 1997. But two years later, the FDNY called to offer the gig he had wanted more than any other.

"When he was finally accepted [into the FDNY] he was absolutely delighted — and so were we," she said.

Then came the horror of 9/11, where Chris and his colleagues from Ladder Co. 61 spent endless days digging through the rubble.

That tragedy steeled him for a second tour of Iraq, his parents said, should the call-up ever come.

It did.

In May, Engeldrum found himself back on Iraqi soil and involved in battles far worse than he remembered from his previous tour.

But Chris was adamant there was a fight for his country and his pals to be won.

Despite the loss of their only son — who died on his own son's 16th birthday — the Engeldrums say they bear no anger toward the decision-makers in Washington who sent him to war.

"My son died doing what he wanted to do — doing what he felt the country needed," Lenora said.

"Maybe something good will come of this. That's the only way I can make any sense out of it."

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