Key Points:

A funeral service has been held before 1000 mourners for US Army Captain Matthew Ferrara, the first New Zealander killed serving in the Afghan war, in California.

Captain Ferrara, 24, who held New Zealand and American citizenship, was killed last week while serving in Afghanistan as a member of the US Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

His uncle, Defence Minister Phil Goff, attended the funeral and told the Dominion Post his family took pride in the news Captain Ferrara was being considered for the Silver Star, America's third-highest award for bravery.

The young soldier had also been promoted posthumously from the rank of first lieutenant.

Mr Goff said the family would trade in all the young man's medals and accolades to have him back.

Captain Ferrara, known as Matty, was the son of Mr Goff's US-based sister Linda, who lives at Torrance and has three other sons still serving in the US military.

He was remembered at a service at California's Rolling Hills Covenant Church and later at a military commitment ceremony at Green Hills Memorial Park yesterday.

The service included a 21-gun salute and the playing of The Last Post.

Two of Captain Ferrara's brothers spoke at the funeral, as did Mr Goff, and some of the dead soldier's friends from West Point and the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

Mr Goff read an excerpt from a letter written by Linda and Charlie Manning, whose only son, Leonard, was killed in action in East Timor in 2001.

"The courage and determination to make a difference that young men like Leonard and Matthew live and die for inspires us to live life to the fullest, making the most of every moment we have."

Mr Goff also read a message from New Zealand's commanding officer in Afghanistan, Colonel Brendan Fraher, who said fellow soldiers understood the risks and reality of serving in a war zone.

The Defence Minister had received a hand-written letter from US President George Bush, who had indicated he would also be writing to Linda and Mario Ferrara. He wrote of his "determination to make sure his death will not be in vain".

Mr Goff found the playing of The Last Post particularly hard.

"I've heard it a thousand times but never for anyone as close to me as Matty was."

The funeral took place as New Zealand announced a two-year extension to troop deployments in Afghanistan, committing till September 2009.