BANGOR, Maine — Hundreds of people — some holding American flags and signs in honor of Capt. John “Jay” Brainard III — turned out to pay tribute to the fallen soldier Thursday as his motorcade made its way from Bangor to his hometown of Newport.
“Coming through Bangor and seeing people on the sides of the road with flags and signs saying, ‘We love you, Captain Brainard’ — it was the most wonderful thing,” Brainard’s mother, Susan Phelps, said after the procession ended.
She quietly thanked the Maine State Police, who led the escort, the 30 or so Maine Patriot Guard Riders and the people who came out to pay silent tribute to her son, who died on Memorial Day when the Apache helicopter he was piloting went down in Afghanistan.
“He loved the Army,” his mom said. “He always wanted to be in the Army.”
Brainard’s wife, Emily, has said that “he bled green,” referring to the Army’s colors.
John Brainard II, Jay’s father, said the entire family is grieving. He said he also wanted to send his gratitude along to those who paid their respects to his son.
“We’re saddened and definitely honored and thankful to the people of this country, especially the people of Maine,” he said. “He was incredible. The boy touched so many. I was honored to have him as my son.”
Jay Brainard, 26, was a 2004 graduate of Foxcroft Academy and a 2008 graduate of the University of Maine, where he earned the rank of U.S. Army lieutenant through the ROTC program.
Brainard was born in Waterville. Since the age of 11, he had lived with his maternal aunt and uncle, Donald and Nancy White.
He was an active-duty helicopter pilot with Headquarters Company of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, based in Katterbach, Germany, and deployed with the unit to Afghanistan on April 30.
His remains arrived at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Bangor International Airport shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday and his wife was waiting as they moved his casket from the plane to a hearse.
Seeing his half-brother’s coffin is when the reality of what happened hit Ben Hawthorne.
“Up until now, it felt like he was still in Germany,” he said. “It’s just hitting us now and my life will never be the same.”
Hermon resident Terry White, a retired Army sergeant, and an Orrington Navy veteran who only wanted to be identified by his first name, Mark, stood at the fence and watched. When the plane arrived both veterans stood at attention — with their bodies erect, eyes to the front, arms at their side and their heels together. When Brainard’s casket came into view, they saluted.
“I just came to pay my respects,” said White, who did not know Brainard. ”These men and women over there are very brave and it’s too bad they have to die.”
A Bangor resident named Tom, who also watched from across the airport, said he’s not a veteran but “I grew up in the Vietnam era and think it’s important to honor those who have fallen.”
The procession made its way down Hammond Street to the southbound ramp of Interstate 95 and left the highway at Exit 157 in Newport.
Relative Mike Chase of Palmyra, who took pictures of the motorcade from the Route 7 highway overpass, said he watched Brainard grow up. He last saw him in August or September of 2011 when he was home on leave.
“He overcame a lot and what he accomplished was amazing — absolutely amazing,” he said.
The fact that Brainard worked hard to become an Apache helicopter pilot made his family very proud, Chase said.
Brainard’s wake is 4-7 p.m. Friday at the Crosby & Neal Funeral Home, 117 Main St. in Newport, which is where Brig. Gen. Michael Bills will present Brainard’s wife and both of his parents the military medals he earned. Those include the Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal and a NATO Medal.
Command Sgt. Maj. Terrence Harris of the Maine National Guard also will present the three family members with the Maine Silver Star Honorable Service Medal and the Maine State Flag.
Brainard will be buried with full military honors, which will include a gun salute, honorary casket flag folding and the playing of taps.
His military funeral service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church, 64 Free St. in Dexter. He will be buried at Sawyer Cemetery in Plymouth.
At the end of the burial ceremony, the flag that draped Brainard’s casket will be presented to his wife and the Maine Select Honor Guard also will present Bills with three additional flags to give to Brainard’s mother, father and aunt.
The governor has ordered that the American flag and the state of Maine flag be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset Saturday in Brainard’s honor.
Brainard will be buried beside his maternal grandfather, Leonard Bresnahan, a decorated World War II Marine veteran whom he called “Pa.”
“He said if anything went wrong, that is where he wanted to be buried,” Hawthorne said.