Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alicia Birchett laid to rest

The sobbing in the cemetery was loudest yesterday as taps gave way to the soft, rhythmic beating of a drum.

"Oh, my God, no! My baby!" cried Dorothea Finklea, sitting next to the casket holding her daughter, Staff Sergeant Alicia A. Birchett. Birchett, 29, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, died earlier this month after she was pinned by a truck while changing its tire in Baghdad.

She was remembered yesterday at the Indian Meetinghouse Cemetery as a driven and dedicated mother -- and a soldier who died while following her life's calling.

Birchett had the courage and determination to "overcome fear and risk it all, to do something different, follow her dream, and make her family and her people proud. And we have much to be proud of," said the Rev. Frances Houston, a longtime friend who led the service, which blended Indian and military traditions.

Birchett, who graduated from Falmouth High School in 1995 and enlisted in the Army soon afterward, served five tours of duty while raising three sons -- ages 8, 3, and 2 -- with her husband, Joe Louis Birchett.

"She loved them unconditionally," her husband said in an interview after the service. "She was my hero."

Burial was between two oaks, not far from tombstones decorated with US flags, marking the graves of other tribe members who served in the military.

"The sacrifice that Alicia made [says something] about her as a person," Glenn Marshall, the tribe's chairman, said in an interview. "She didn't think of herself. She thought of the people around her, and she wanted to protect them. She went . . . to a place that she felt needed help, and she stood up for what she believed in."

A military honor guard, accompanied by Governor Deval Patrick, presented Finklea with the flag that had draped her daughter's casket. She clutched the folded triangle throughout the rest of the ceremony.

After the honor guard fired a 21-gun salute and an Army trumpeter played taps, the mourners, who had gathered in a half-circle around the grave, followed Wampanoag tradition by laying pine needles on the casket while tribe members wearing traditional dress chanted and beat a large drum.

When the ceremony ended, Finklea, supported by family members, shook hands with each of the roughly 50 Patriot Guard Riders -- veterans, mostly from the Vietnam era, who ride their motorcycles to funerals in a show of support for fallen soldiers.

The riders had stood in a line behind the mourners throughout the service, each holding flags that whipped in the stiff breeze.

Marshall said it was difficult to balance the pain of Birchett's death with the celebration of her life. "It's very hard for us to accept that she's gone," he said. "Even though her spirit will be here, her physical loss is going to be hard, very hard."

Birchett, who died on Aug. 9, a day after the accident, was the first Mashpee Wampanoag to be killed in Iraq.

She was the second female member of the military from Massachusetts to die in the war, according to the Associated Press. Marine Captain Jennifer J. Harris of Swampscott was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq in February.

From the Boston Globe

Related Link:
Alicia Birchett remembered

Related Link:
Alicia A. Birchett dies 'of injuries suffered from a non-combat related accident'