The Samantha Daehling leaves with her husband's parents and siblings afer the young soldier's funeral at St. Agnes' Church.
DALTON, Mass. — The military funeral for 24-year-old Army Spec. Mitchell K. Daehling drew hundreds of attendees, including the state's top officials.
The Wahconah Regional High School graduate was one of four soldiers killed on May 14 by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantryman's Badge and the NATO Medal.
A portion of Main Street was closed for the 11 a.m. service at St. Agnes' Church while family and friends nearly filled the church.
Inside, Daehling's widow, Samantha Daehling, gave the eulogy, leaving the attendees teary-eyed.
She spoke of a cheerful, humorous young man.
"He would look at us all and say stop being so sad ... have a beer," Samantha Daehling told the gathering, a tissue gripped in her hand. But she understood the man she'd married less than a year ago was a special person.
"I married a soldier, an American soldier, an incredible grandson ... a strong, loyal, independent son, a weekend warrior, a best friend ... the love of my live ...
"Most importantly, I married a hero."
U.S. Rep. Richard Neal said her eulogy was "the most powerful moment" he's experienced.
"It was amazing that she had the strength get up there and talk without losing control in front of so many people. But she said she did it because she had the strength from her husband," said state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru.
Following the service, the Massachusetts Army National Guard's color and honor guards presented flags to the immediate family, including Daehling's parents, Kirk and Brenda Daehling, under a canopy in front of the church as a drizzly rain fell.
Taps were played and there was rifle salute. The Dalton American Legion, Patriot Guard Riders, numerous other military agencies, school groups and residents were on hand.
Area residents have honored Daehling for the last three days, starting on Wednesday when Pittsfield streets were lined with flag-bearing citizens as his body was transported to Dery Funeral Home from Barnes Air National Guard Base. On Thursday, the body was transported to St. Agnes's for the wake and, again, the streets were lined with supporters.
For Army veteran and Wahconah Regional School Committee member Michael F. Case, the death is like "you've lost a member of your family."
"It's just an overwhelming sense of community," Case said of the honors.
Mitchell Daehling married the former Samantha McNamara last June and six months later was deployed to Afghanistan. The couple lived in Westford.
Daehling was a Wahconah Regional High School graduate after his family moved to Dalton during his sophomore year. His parents and his brother and sister, Adam and Kayla, still live in Dalton.
Daehling will be transported to Lewiston, Idaho, where he will be buried next to his grandfather, Kenneth J. Sander, who was also awarded a Purple Heart for his service during the Korean War. Sander died in 2009.
"We're here to honor the young man who gave his life for his country," said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as she teared up. "We all come together in part to remember all of our young men and women who have served, who have come to us and said 'we'll do everything for you.'"
Warren said she told the family that "We are a grateful nation and we will not forget."
Gov. Deval Patrick also attended, as did all four Berkshire state representatives and state Sen. Benjamin Downing.
"It is just terrible devastation for any family to lose someone that young," Mark said. "It's just terrible."
Daehling is the third Berkshire County serviceman who has been killed in action in the Afghanistan War, known under the operations name of Operation Enduring Freedom.