Darryl Lyon still has the book “Behind the Lines” given to him by Jay Brainard, the soon-to-be second lieutenant who was contemplating graduation from the University of Maine ROTC in 2008 and his likely deployment overseas.
The book is a collection of letters from soldiers in combat to their families back home.
Lyon was the enrollment officer for UMaine ROTC at the time and had just returned from a tour in Iraq.
“He asked what it’s like being separated from family. That was really on his mind,” Lyon said. “You try to assure them that there are plenty of family and friends surrounding them, that they’ll be OK,” he said.
Now Brainard’s wife Emily and a wide circle of friends are coping with the grief of his death.
Capt. John R. Brainard III, 26, of Newport, was flying an Apache helicopter with the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Afghanistan when it crashed and he was killed along with another soldier.
He died on Memorial Day, as thousands of Mainers took time to honor the sacrifice of those military men and women who have died fighting for their nation.
“He was a pretty accomplished young man, very well spoken, a Christian kid,” Lyon said. “He was one of the best . . . Maine lost a good one there. That’s going to hurt.”
Brainard grew up in the Newport area and graduated from Foxcroft Academy in 2004.
“Teachers and staff members remember Capt Brainard as a very determined young man that knew during his high school career that he wanted to be in the military,” said Arnold Shorey, who recently joined the academy as head of school. “We are proud to say he is a Pony (the school mascot) and have the sincerest appreciation for his service to our country.”
Brainard went on to attend the University of Maine on a scholarship and enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in military science.
“He was just a really solid kid all the way around, the American ideal in what we want in our officers,” said Lyon. “And then he went on to get accepted to flight school, then he got accepted to Apache flight school,” he said, noting that Apache helicopter pilots are a very elite group and to be picked for that training was an accomplishment in itself.
Brainard was a very organized, detail-oriented person as he was preparing to graduate.
“He certainly had a command presence when he came into the room, but he was a private guy, a detail guy, a very humble guy,” Lyon said, noting that Brainard came from a modest background and overcame some hardship to be able to attend college.
When Lyon, now commander of the Maine Army National Guard’s 11th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, needed someone to help launch the ROTC program at what was then Husson College, he tapped Brainard. And when someone needed to resurrect the moribund 20th Maine Honor Society, Brainard showed up in no time with a three-ring binder, neatly tabbed, with a table of contents, Lyon said.
“He was that kind of kid,” Lyon said. “I just remember Jay as being the prototypical Maine guy done good.”
James Warhola, chairman of the University of Maine’s political science department, remembered Brainard as a hard worker and an enjoyable class participant.
“As so many of the prospective military officers are, he was very diligent, very conscientious about his studies, but he was also a kind of fun-loving person,” Warhola said.
Brainard graduated magna cum laude from the university, he said.
Chelsea Dougherty said she got to know Brainard and his wife-to-be Emily at the University of Maine in Orono when the couple had just started dating.
“He was always gentle and caring,” she said. Dougherty said she too is a military wife and aches for the pain her college friend is going through.
Brainard’s death was announced by the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Paul LePage, all of whom expressed condolences for Brainard’s family.
“This news never comes easy and is especially difficult knowing this young man made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day,” LePage said. “I join with all Mainers to forever remember him as a true son of the State of Maine.”
There were no details on how the crash happened and the cause is being investigated, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said in a statement. She said he and his wife Emily met when they attended the University of Maine together.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was saddened to learn of Brainard’s death.
“As we pause this week to reflect upon our nation’s fallen heroes, this is a somber reminder of the heroism of all the men and women who have served our country and made the ultimate sacrifice,” Collins said.
Those sentiments were echoed in statements by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine.
“For those who make this ultimate sacrifice on behalf of us all, there are no words to express both our boundless gratitude and immense grief,” Snowe said.
Doug Harlow, Waterville Sentinel staff writer, contributed to this story.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contached at 791-6327 or at [email protected]