DEXTER — U.S. Army Capt. Jay Brainard was mourned, honored and buried Saturday, three weeks after the helicopter he was piloting crashed while on patrol in Afghanistan.

About 350 family members, friends and military officials packed St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church for his afternoon funeral, which began just after the sun emerged from a cloudy June sky. A military commital service followed at Sawyer Cemetery in Plymouth.

The news media were not allowed inside the church for the service, but those who spoke about Brainard before and afterward said he will never be forgotten.

Maine Attorney General William Schneider, who represented Gov. Paul LePage at the funeral, said the service was touching.

“It was very, very dignified and appropriate,” he said. “It was a celebration of Captain Brainard’s life. It just seemed like he was a terrific guy and somebody I wish I’d known. He was a true son of Maine, growing up loving the woods and hunting and fishing.”

Brainard, 26, was a 2004 graduate of Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft and a 2008 graduate of University of Maine where he met his future wife, Emily Southwick. They were married in 2008.

He was assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Ansbach-Katterbach, Germany, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. He and another soldier who was in the helicopter died on Memorial Day in Wardac province, Afghanistan, in a crash that remains under investigation. Initial reports indicate there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.

Schneider said Brainard’s uncle, Donald White, described to those gathered how his nephew grew up and recalling the things he did as a child.

“It was really, really special,” Schneider said. “You got a good feeling for who Jay Brainard really was. His wife and he were a true team. They met in college, at UMO, and they got married and traveled the world together.”

Brainard’s widow, Emily, arrived at the church in a U.S. government van just before the service started around 1:30 p.m. and was escorted in by a military officer.

She walked through a line of 17 American flags and a U.S. Army flag held by military veterans, many of whom were part of the Patriot Guard Riders. They had driven to the funeral on about 75 motorcycles.

“Emily is brave young woman who was so supportive of his military career,” U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, said to reporters before entering the church. “I told her our nation could not do what it does without her support.”

Snowe had just come from Crosby & Neal Funeral Home in Newport, where she had spoken with Brainard’s family.

She said it was important she attend the funeral to convey the country’s gratitude to Brainard’s family.

“He was an extraordinary young man and he wanted to serve in the military,” Snowe said. “That was his goal and his dream.”

His family is experiencing tremendous pain and heartache, she said.

“They’re holding up as best you can,” she said.

Friends and family members started arriving at the church, perched high on a grassy hill, more than an hour before the service started.

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-2nd District, was one of the first to arrive.

“I know that he felt strongly about his service. and he definitely was committed to serving his country,” Michaud said. “It’s a great loss, but his family can rest assured he served our nation proudly and with honor.”

Church deacon David Denbow, who assisted the Rev. Paul Murray in the service, which was not a Mass, described it as having a “distinctly Christian tone to it.”

Rita Hitchcock of Dexter, who sang in the choir at the service, said she met Brainard several years ago when he was a teenager.

“I didn’t know him that well but he was a very nice young man,” she said. “I met him a couple of times, through family.”

Despite the crowd that gathered, the area around the church was strikingly quiet except for the sound of birds chirping and the grinding of a chain saw in the distance.

State police, as well as Dexter and Newport police officers, sheriff’s deputies and officials from all branches of the military gathered and saluted as the funeral hearse arrived with the coffin carrying Brainard’s remains.

Military officers escorted the coffin, draped with an American flag, into the church.

Shortly afterward, the strains of “Be Not Afraid” flowed through the open church doors. A program said Christian symbols would be placed on the coffin, the 23rd Psalm would be recited by the congregation and The Lord’s Prayer would be read.

Outside the church, Jerry Gerhardt, of the funeral home, said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had visited the funeral home Friday night and spoken to the Brainard family at length. He also said that a brigadier general stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, was attending the service. Gerhardt said he did not know his name.

Standing on a knoll across the street from the church, Dexter resident Leo Kerwock, 50, stared at the church and listened the low hum of the congregation singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

He said he did not know Brainard or his family, but he felt a closeness to them, and to all of the veterans and military people attending the service. The town had been talking about the upcoming funeral all week, he said.

“Everyone cries for someone who has been killed in the military — I don’t know how someone couldn’t,” Kerwock said. “This young man had his whole life ahead of him.”

As the congregation sang the processional song, “On Eagle’s Wings,” a monarch butterfly appeared beside a red pickup truck bearing a veteran’s license plate, fluttered in a wide circle, and disappeared.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]


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