Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jeremy Bouffard remembered

This town of about 400 people, high in the Berkshires and roughly 40 miles northwest of Springfield, was quiet yesterday, as it is most of the time, residents say.

But the silence, broken only by the constant sound of crickets and the occasional hum of a car's engine, mingled with mourning yesterday, as residents learned that one of their own had been killed in Iraq.

Army Specialist Jeremy Paul Bouffard, 21, was one of 14 soldiers killed when a US Black Hawk helicopter crashed Wednesday in northern Iraq, leaving no survivors, said his father, Stephen.

It was the highest one-day death toll of US troops in Iraq since January.

The nighttime crash, apparently caused by mechanical failure, occurred shortly after the helicopter had lifted off after retrieving soldiers from a combat mission, according to a statement released by the military yesterday.

"Jeremy was a soldier who died doing his duty," said a statement released by the family yesterday.

"He chose to serve out of a sense of honor and commitment to the ideals of our nation. His job was difficult, but he was content with himself, his family, and his life. He was clear-headed and positive about his future. We celebrate his life, even as we mourn his loss."

Bouffard was an infantry scout with the 25th Infantry Division and was applying for warrant officer school and helicopter pilot training, his family said.

Stephen Bouffard, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, declined to comment further yesterday, telling reporters gathered outside his ranch-style house that his family was not yet ready to speak about their loss.

The only visible signs in Middlefield yesterday of Bouffard's death, beyond the half-dozen cars parked outside the family's house, were two US flags lowered to half-staff.

One flew in front of Town Hall, behind a granite monument to the 14 Middlefield residents who served in World War II.

The other flew in the center of town, an intersection marked by a closed corner store and a white church, behind a similar monument dedicated to the 13 residents who served in World War I.

But residents and officials interviewed yesterday made it clear that Bouffard's death was felt throughout town.

"Everybody feels it when it goes through a little town like this," said Larry Pease, who lives a few doors down from the Bouffards and serves as the town's fire chief and chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

"He seemed like he was a good kid," Pease said.

"He was just a sweetheart," said Jeanne Axenroth, 21, who attended middle school and high school with Bouffard.

"He was never mean to anyone that I ever saw," Axenroth said.

Bouffard attended Gateway Regional High School in nearby Huntington and was also home-schooled for a time, his father said.

Bouffard stood out as a leader from an early age, said a neighborhood friend who asked that his name not be used because he had not yet spoken with the Bouffard family.

"He was a great person," the friend said. "He stood up for what was right."

Even those who did not know Bouffard personally said they were saddened by his death.

"In a small town, when someone loses a child, we're all losers," said Crystal Main, an employee at Middlefield's Post Office, which is housed in a trailer. "We've all lost something of great meaning."

In addition to his father, he leaves his mother, Paula; his wife, Amanda; a son, Caleb; and three sisters.

From the Boston Globe

Related Link:
Jeremy P. Bouffard dies 'of injuries suffered when his helicopter crashed'