DEXTER, Maine — In near silence, hundreds of mourners made their way into St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church on Saturday afternoon to say their final goodbyes to a Newport man who was killed late last month doing one of the things he loved most.
U.S. Army Capt. John “Jay” Brainard III died on Memorial Day when the Apache helicopter he was piloting went down while on patrol in Afghanistan. He was 26 years old.
In addition to his grieving wife, Emily, his parents, the uncle and aunt who helped raise him and other family members and friends, mourners included military brass representing all branches, elected officials, the Freeport Flag Ladies and 85 motorcycles ridden by members of the Patriot Guard Riders who came to Piscataquis County from much of Maine as well as New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
The riders, many of whom are military veterans, helped state, county and local police escort the hearse carrying Brainard’s casket, while others stood sentry in front of the church and still others stood watch at Sawyer Cemetery in Plymouth, where Brainard was laid to rest with full military honors after the funeral.
That the larger community also was grieving was evident along the funeral cortege’s route through Newport, Corinna and Dexter, where residents lined the streets, some holding U.S. flags, others bowing their heads or putting their hands to their hearts as mourners made their way to the service.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe was among the dignitaries who attended the funeral service.
“I think [honoring fallen soldiers] is one of the most important roles of an elected official, for the families and for the heroes who died for our freedom and our national security and paid the ultimate price,” she said. “It’s important for us to convey our profound gratitude and depth of appreciation on behalf of a grateful nation to these individuals, like Jay.
“He was a superb and magnificent young man from everything I’ve heard from talking to his widow, to his parents, to his in-laws, to his aunt and uncle who raised him as well,” Snowe said.
“He was an extraordinary young man and he wanted to serve in the military. That was his goal and his dream. I wanted to be here so I knew they understood that it is a grateful nation that will forever remember the courage and the sacrifices of Jay Brainard and what he did for our country.
“And Emily is a brave young woman who was so supportive of his military career,” Snowe said. “As I told her, our nation could not do it without her support and his family’s support. We wouldn’t be the greatest nation on Earth if it weren’t of families and wives like Emily.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and state Attorney General William Schneider also attended the funeral. Gov. Paul LePage, who was unable to attend, ordered flags be lowered to half staff for the funeral. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins visited with Brainard’s family on Friday.
Though the funeral service was private, some of those who attended later said that the church, which can accommodate about 400 people, was filled to capacity.
“It was pretty much standing room only,” said Capt. J. David Waterhouse, a merchant marine who served with the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War. Waterhouse said he is a close friend of the soldier’s father, John Brainard.
“It was a celebration of his life, a celebration of the fact that he loved to live in the outdoors, hunting and fishing. Winter was his favorite time,” said Waterhouse, who lives in Augusta.
“His other passion was to fly and his main point in life was to help Army and other military families and members. He was one of the best of the best. I might add that his father had been in the United States Navy,” Waterhouse said.
Among the memorable moments for Waterhouse were tributes to the soldier by David White, the uncle who helped raised him, and a close friend who spoke on behalf of Emily Brainard.
White “gave very moving testimony about what Jay loved and what he loved doing and how devoted he was to Emily,” Waterhouse said.
The friend recalled how Brainard once talked his wife into skydiving, despite that fact she was “very reluctant to jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” Waterhouse said. He said that Emily Brainard’s friend also recalled how the couple met in arguably one of the most unromantic of places — a Bangor bowling alley.
Waterhouse said he was moved to see the level of support Brainard’s family received from the military, adding that every branch was represented.
“I’m just hoping that a lot of people will realize the sacrifices that all members of the military branches,” he said.
Waterhouse said it was important that he attend the funeral to support his friend.
“I had no choice. John’s still taking it very, very hard. This is a very, very difficult time for all of them,” he said, adding, “This was very difficult for me. I have three children and I can’t imagine how I’d feel.”
Brainard was born in Waterville to John and Susan (Bresnahan) Brainard, but lived with his maternal aunt and uncle, Donald and Nancy White, starting at the age of 11.
He was an active-duty helicopter pilot with Headquarters Company of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, based in Katterbach, Germany, when he was deployed to Afghanistan on April 30. The Apache helicopter crashed in Kabul, Afghanistan, and killed Brainard and another member of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, according to the Department of Defense casualties list.
While a student at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft, he played jazz trumpet and was a member of the swim team and the 2003 championship football team. At the University of Maine, he participated in ROTC and graduated magna cum laude in 2008 as a 2nd lieutenant in the Army. He had met his wife in college, and they were married that year.
Brainard attended flight school in Fort Rucker, Ala., and was deployed as an Apache helicopter pilot to Afghanistan on April 30.
After his body arrived back in Maine, hundreds of people lined the highway Thursday as his motorcade, led by state police and the Patriot Riders, made the 26-mile ride from Bangor to Newport.
Last week, soldiers in his unit held a Task Force Gunslinger Memorial Service for Brainard and Chief Warrant Officer Five John C. Pratt, 51, of Springfield, Va., who also died in the helicopter crash. A second memorial service was held in their honor in Germany for their brothers-in-arms and family members. Both services were captured in photos and posted on Facebook.
After the church service, family and friends went to Sawyer Cemetery in Plymouth, where Brainard was buried with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, honorary casket flag folding, the playing of taps and a military aircraft flyover.
In line with tradition, the flag that draped Brainard’s casket was presented to his wife at the end of the burial ceremony. The Maine Select Honor Guard also arranged to have flags presented to Brainard’s mother, father and aunt.
Bangor Daily News writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.