NEWPORT — An aunt and uncle who helped raise Jay Brainard said Wednesday the soldier loved the Maine outdoors, loved his family and was honored to serve in the military.

“The guy shined; he shined,” his uncle, Donald White, 58, of Atkinson said. “My heart is busted in half.”

Brainard, 26, of Newport, a captain in the U.S. Army, was killed on Memorial Day when the AH-64 helicopter he was piloting crashed near Kabul, Afghanistan.

Brainard’s brother Benjamin Hawthorne, 24, said he and Jay had a typical brother relationship — wrestling and horsing around — but also one of mutual respect.

“Jay was always a hero to me, and I always looked up to him,” Hawthorne said. “He always did so good in school; he did so good in the army. I was always so proud of him.

“He was my hero and now I’m proud to say, he’s our country’s hero,” he said.

White and his wife, Nancy, said John Brainard II, joined the U.S. Navy when son Jay — John III — was a baby. Jay’s mother, Susan Phelps, Nancy White’s sister, remarried after the couple divorced. She and her second husband, Raymond Phelps, raised Jay and Benjamin in Newport for a few years until Jay went to live with the Whites when he was 11.

Brainard stayed with the Whites until he graduated from Foxcroft Academy in 2004. They said the boy reveled in the rural, back-to-the-land lifestyle, in a log cabin with a hand-pump water well and where he had to snowshoe to the main road to get to the school bus in winter.

“As a kid he loved the outdoors, loved camping, hiking and hunting and he was creative,” Nancy White said. “He was going to be an architectural engineer until he got into high school, when he decided that he wanted to be in the military.”

She said he was an honor student in high school who played jazz trumpet, was a member of the swim team and played for the state Class C champion Foxcroft Academy football team in 2003.

He was commissioned into the active duty Army as a second lieutenant in the Aviation Corps on May 9, 2008. He also graduated from the University of Maine that year with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“He chose me and Nancy to pin his wings on him when he got commissioned as an officer,” Donald White said.

Susan and Raymond Phelps declined to comment.

John Brainard II has gone to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where he will meet his son’s remains as they are brought to the United States, the Whites said. John Brainard II also will be there with his son’s wife, Emily, who met her husband when they were college students together.

Nancy White said Jay was close to his maternal grandparents, Louise and Leonard Bresnahan, a U.S. Marine who served in the Pacific theater in World War II.

Hawthorne said his brother wanted to be buried in Plymouth near his grandfather if he died while serving overseas. That is the plan, he said, but a date has not been set.

“Part of Jay’s love for the military was his love for his grandfather,” Nancy White said. “He will be coming back to Maine; he will be buried in Maine.”

Also killed in the crash was Chief Warrant Officer Five John C. Pratt, 51, of Springfield, Va., according to a release from the Department of Defense.

The soldiers were assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Ansbach-Katterbach, Germany, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, Capt. Michael Weisman at U.S. Army Europe public affairs office said by phone Wednesday morning from Heidelberg, Germany. Additional details had not been released Wednesday.

Initial reports from The Associated Press said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time the helicopter crashed.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

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