Soldier's farewell SFC Dan-o Petithory
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
bids soldier farewell
CHESHIRE — Danny Petithory came home yesterday, back to the hills of Western Massachusetts where he grew up dreaming of becoming a soldier in the U.S. Army.
As his family wept and his parents tearfully accepted medals for heroism on his behalf, Green Beret commando Sgt. 1st Class Daniel H. Petithory was buried with full military honors not far from the neighborhood where he was born.
A rifle squad fired a 21-gun salute, a bugler played "taps," and the breeze carried the sounds of "Amazing Grace" from a bagpipe nearby.
Dense fog matched the mood as dignitaries from far away and childhood friends from his hometown gathered to say goodbye to Petithory, one of three Green Berets who were killed last week when a wayward smart bomb exploded 100 yards from their desert post in central Afghanistan.
"He gave his life for his country and for all of us," the Rev. David Raymond told about 500 mourners at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church. "He served so terrorism would not rule our world. He loved the military. He loved serving his country. He put his whole being — his whole life — in that service."
Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., who arrived at the funeral with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, D-Mass., and acting Gov. Jane M. Swift, hailed Petithory as a hero.
"We knew him as the neighbor next door," Kerry said. "We knew him as a kid who always wanted to be a soldier. We knew him as a kid who became what he always wanted to be."
Throughout this Appalachian Trail town of about 3,500 residents, flags flew from utility poles, across front porches and at half staff in front of town offices.
Eight of Petithory's fellow Green Berets carried his coffin into the church, where the soldier was eulogized as a jokester, morale builder and patriot.
His brothers in arms remembered Petithory as a sharpshooter and communications specialist who blended his military professionalism with a sense of humor that inspired him to sport Elvis glasses on parachute jumps and a grass skirt and coconut bra on canoe trips.
His uncle and godfather recalled a boy whose biggest dream was to be a soldier.
"He grew from a lanky boy to a man; from a wisecracking teen-ager to a soldier of boundless courage," Henry Petithory told mourners. "From a humble small-town neighbor arose a hero for the nation."
Petithory and two other soldiers were killed last week when an American bomb, carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives, landed about 100 yards from their position north of Kandahar.
Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, was the Taliban's last stronghold before a chaotic surrender a week ago when hundreds of fighters fled.
Also killed were Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of Frazier Park, Calif., and Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tenn. The stray bomb also killed six Afghan anti-Taliban fighters and injured 20 American soldiers. Davis will be buried near his home in Tennessee and Prosser will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
"The fact that this was friendly fire, the fact that it was an accident, doesn't matter," said Maj. Michael McColgan, who grew up in nearby Cummington but didn't meet Petithory until they served together at Fort Campbell, Ky. "Those guys died fighting for this country. That's what's important."
The Pentagon had offered the Petithory family a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, but his family decided to have the burial at home.
At the graveside service, not far from the middle-class neighborhood where Barbara and Louis Petithory raised their three children, a 21-gun salute cracked the cold, rainy fog that clung to the cemetery.
A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," and before Petithory's casket was lowered, his father Louis tearfully accepted the Purple Heart and Silver Star, awarded posthumously.
"In the end, he was a Green Beret, a warrior, and he left us doing what he treasured and loved to do," said Robert Way, a warrant officer who served with Petithory at Fort Campbell.
Mourners remember a man who took to the treetops during childhood games of hide-and-seek and eventually became what his comrades called a "world class" soldier.
A cluster of Green Berets who served with Petithory lined both sides of the walkway to the church.
One of the members, Sgt. 1st Class Frank Acevedo, described the memorial service the 5th Special Forces Group held for the three soldiers who will never return to their base at Fort Campbell, Ky.
During a final roll call, the soldiers' names were called out three times; the call was met with silence. Only their highly shined boots, dog tags and green berets sat in the spots where the men once stood.
Major McColgan, who now lives in Madison, Wis., said he met Petithory at Fort Campbell five years ago and was his team leader for two years.
"We never knew each other growing up, it was the strangest thing. But we served overseas together, we jumped together. Danny added so much to the team," said McColgan, 33, who last saw Petithory when he returned to the base in June.
McColgan said he was reassigned about three years ago but kept in close touch with the 5th Special Forces Group, and was overcome when he learned that Petithory, Davis and Prosser had been killed.
"It was almost a feeling of guilt when I heard. I had been on that team with those guys and would have liked to have been there," he said, his voice growing tight with emotion.
Accounts from Petithory's funeral Mass revealed that he and 10 other members of the group dropped from an aircraft in the middle of the night into a valley that was scattered with Taliban fighters. He was a communications specialist who directed air strikes over Afghanistan while responding to Taliban counterattacks since mid-October.
From a hospital in Germany where he is recuperating, Petithory's unit commander, Capt. Jason Amerine has said of the fallen soldier's skills: "(Directing air attacks) is an art. And the guy I had was the best I've ever seen."
Sgt. 1st Class William Williams yesterday read from a statement prepared by Sgt. Steve Stone, one of Petithory's teammates, who described him as a patriot, a friend and a premier sniper "among the best in the world at his craft."
Petithory's mother, Barbara, accepted an American flag, ceremoniously folded and offered by military personnel.
She clutched it in her lap as a serviceman played "Taps" from the top of a slope — just yards from where her son's silver coffin would be buried.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.