(Host) The fourth Vermonter to die in Iraq was honored with a hero’s funeral in Brattleboro Monday. Twenty-year-old Private First Class Kyle Gilbert, a Brattleboro native, was a paratrooper with the Army’s 82nd Airborn division.
VPR’s Susan Keese has more.
(Keese) Nearly 500 mourners poured into St Michael’s Church in Brattleboro for the hour long funeral service. A hundred or so more filled the overflow space in a school across the street. Even more stood in silence along the two-mile stretch of road where the funeral procession passed en route to the cemetery.
Vickie Nadeau, who didn’t know Gilbert personally, was in the crowd with her own son in uniform.
(Nadeau) “We’re a small community and I think small communities care about everyone. And it’s like one of your own – no matter who it is, whether you were close to him or not. It’s important to everyone in the community.”
(Keese) Everyday activity stopped as the hearse passed, accompanied on foot by members of Gilbert’s army unit. Local firefighters, friends, and veterans’ organizations also joined the solemn march.
Windows along the route were decorated with yellow ribbons and photographs of the young soldier. At one point a 40-foot American Flag hung across the road.
Gilbert was a 2001 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School. He died in an Iraqi ambush while on guard duty in Baghdad. Tearful friends described him as a kind person, with a sweet smile and a genuine concern for others. They also recalled his determination to serve in the military.
Vermont Governor Jim Douglas was on hand, as was Senator James Jeffords. Jeffords said he’d come to know Gilbert personally because of his commitment to serve. He said Gilbert had sought his help after being initially rejected from the military for medical reasons.
(Jeffords) “It was an emotion I’d never had before, to fight so hard to get somebody into war. And then to have the experience of that individual killed in active duty just brings all things into turmoil. The fight – was it worth it to get him in? But you know it was what he wanted. And he’s a hero in my mind. But it really raises questions again, why we’re there.”
(Keese) But Gilbert’s parents, Robert and Regina Gilbert, said their son never questioned his calling. Gilbert’s father had also been an army paratrooper. Regina Gilbert said her son had always hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps.
(Regina Gilbert) “He loved serving -that was his main goal after high school was to serve in the military. He wanted to be like his father and jump out of planes, as well as serving.”
(Robert Gilbert) “It was his decision and he fought hard to get where he was, where he wanted to be. So we’re very proud of him.”
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.