Saturday, February 03, 2007

Keith Callahan laid to rest

WOBURN -- Trying to hold his composure, Richard Haverty of Lunenburg stood beside the flag-draped coffin carrying his nephew yesterday. While reading a letter from members of the platoon paratrooper Keith A. Callahan was protecting before a bomb took his life, Haverty's emotions began to unravel.

"January 24 was the worst day of our lives -- a nightmare of a day," the anguished uncle read during a funeral Mass at St. Charles Church, pausing to choke back tears. "One emotion . . . all of us vividly remember of that day, pride . . . the professional way Keith trained us all. We were able to push through and survive."

Callahan, 31, a sergeant first class for the Army's 82d Airborne Division, was killed that day south of Baghdad. He had posted himself at a critical road to provide security for his platoon when a bomb exploded.

His fourth deployment spanned two years. The husband and father of four is the first Woburn native to die in combat since the Vietnam War, his former high school principal had said.

Outside the church yesterday, dozens of students from St. Charles School silently waved American flags.

Inside, bagpipes played a mournful rendition of "Amazing Grace" as family members clung to one another. Boxes of tissues were passed through the crowded pews as hundreds of overwhelmed mourners sobbed through their prayers and disbelief.

Callahan's uniform, decorated with an array of ribbons and medals, dangled on a hanger above his coffin. A framed photograph of him in his uniform was placed nearby.

Governor Deval Patrick , attending his first service for an Iraq casualty since taking office last month, offered hugs and condolences, sang hymns, and prayed with Callahan's relatives and friends , many of whom sought to shake his hand.

"Keith, our fallen hero, sacrificed his life for each and every one of us here this morning," the Rev. James Achadinha told the crowd.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled," Achadinha said. "We are people who grieve with hope. Keith, you do not belong to death. You belong to Christ and so do we."

Callahan, the youngest of eight , graduated from Woburn Memorial High School in 1993. The stocky man, who stood at 5 feet 5 inches, was a Golden Gloves boxer and a two-time boxing champion at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he earned his nickname "Bam-Bam."

"I wonder where he learned to take a punch," his uncle said and chuckled for a moment between wiping away tears.

On the day Callahan was killed, his mother and his four children received letters he sent them just days before. He wrote that he wished the war was over, his uncle said.

"He wanted to hear the voices of his wife and children," Haverty recalled. "He wanted to be there if they needed him."

Callahan last visited his relatives in Woburn last summer.

He will be buried near McClure, Pa., where he lived with his wife and children.

"It will be impossible to forget him," Haverty said, reading the letter from his unit.

Callahan's fellow soldiers said his death has only made them more driven to succeed in Iraq.

"We resolve to see this mission through to the end," the soldiers' letter said. "Tough times don't last. Tough men like SFC Callahan do."

From the Boston Globe

Related Link:
Keith Callahan remembered

Related Link:
Keith A. Callahan dies of injuries from I.E.D.