When War Hits Home

by | Sep 4, 2013

By John Anderson

I never knew U.S. Army Specialist Mitchell Kirk Daehling. He graduated from Wahconah Regional High School in 2006. I graduated from Wahconah in 1977 and had moved out of Dalton years before he was born. And yet, when I read the May 17th Associated Press article about his death, I felt an immediate sense of loss. A soldier from my hometown had been killed in Afghanistan fighting for his country.

I grew up during the Vietnam War, and I studied every edition of LIFE and Newsweek. The combat photography was incredible, and I had no doubt about the realities of war. My GI JOE “action soldiers” and their missions paled in comparison. I also remember a classmate at Craneville Elementary School whose father went missing in Vietnam in the early 60’s. He never came home. I was a sophomore at Wahconah when Saigon fell.

Dalton is a mill town in the heart of Berkshire County where Crane & Co. makes specialty papers using cotton fibers. Their products range from fine stationery to the paper used for all United States currency. The population is a little less than 7,000. Students from Dalton attend Wahconah Regional with classmates from towns unknown to most Auburn residents: Becket, Cummington, Hinsdale, Peru, Washington and Windsor.

Dalton is the consummate small New England town, and when Spc. Daehling was killed in action on May 14, this community came together to honor his bravery, celebrate his life, and support his family. According to The Berkshire Eagle, Spc. Daehling was the first Wahconah graduate to be killed in action since the Vietnam War. I could not be more proud of my hometown.

I’ve lived in Auburn since the spring of 1993. Auburn is also home to my wife, Donna, and our son, Robert. Auburn is Robert’s hometown. Robert has a registration card for the Selective Service System. The military draft had ended by the time I turned 18.

When Donna and I moved into our house, David Brodeur was a junior at Auburn High School. I talked to his father, Lawrence, at a Town Meeting once. When news broke on April 28, 2011 that U.S. Air Force Major David L. Brodeur had been killed in action the previous day in Afghanistan, our community was devastated.

On May 7, 2011 a memorial service was held in Auburn for Maj. Brodeur. The citizens of Auburn came out to honor his bravery, celebrate his life, and support his family. Maj. Brodeur was the first Auburn High graduate to be killed in action since the Vietnam War.

A group of David’s friends set up the Major David Brodeur Memorial Foundation. From their website, “The mission of The Major David Brodeur Memorial Foundation is to honor the life of Major David Brodeur by working collaboratively with Auburn High School students to provide grants in the areas of academics, athletics, and extracurricular activities.”

The group has also been fundraising to build the Brodeur Memorial Plaza, and on July 1st a groundbreaking was held. Construction is underway on the west side of Auburn High School in the area below the library. Plans are to dedicate the Plaza on October 19th. I could not be more proud of my son’s hometown.