DALTON -- The life and ultimate sacrifice of U.S. Army Spc. Mitchell K. Daehling, who was killed May 14 in Afghanistan, were remembered during a moving service Friday at St. Agnes Church.
Nearly 600 mourners attended the funeral, including Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, Berkshire County's legislative delegation and representatives of the Army and from a number of military service organizations, including the Dalton American Legion.
Among several speakers during the service, Daehling's widow, Samantha, delivered a eulogy that Neal later termed "one of the most powerful moments of my long political career."
Some might not understand how she could speak during the funeral, Samantha Daehling said, "but you have to understand who I was married to. I was married to a soldier, an American soldier ... and most important, I was married to a hero."
Halting at times with obvious emotion, she said her husband provided an example of quiet courage and dedication worth emulating, adding at one point, "and I still need to laugh and smile for Mitchell."
She described her 24-year-old husband as "the love of my life" and "a good listener and a friend." She talked about the role his extended family and hers helped in shaping his dedication to duty and his family.
Her remarks were applauded by those inside the church.
The response of the community, the military and state and local officials "was truly overwhelming," said Daehling's father, Kirk W. Daehling of Dalton, on Friday evening. "I thought it was a beautiful service."
That support, he said, helped his family get through the experience. "It was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life," Kirk Daehling said.
The area around the brick-walled Catholic church on Main Street was blocked off for the two-hour service. About 65 members of the Patriot Guard and American Legion Riders motorcycle organizations from chapters in Massachusetts and New York state stood in lines on both sides of the street, holding American flags that fluttered in a chilly breeze under a leaden sky.
The Massachusetts Army National Guard's color and honor guards participated in the military funeral, including transporting the flag-draped coffin and precisely folding flags following the service for presentation to the widow, Daehling's parents, Kirk and Brenda Sander Daehling, and other family members.
Daehling was killed May 14 along with three other soldiers by an improvised explosive device in Sanjaray, Afghanistan. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and other medals.
He will be buried according to his wishes in Lewiston, Idaho, next to his grandfather, Kenneth Sander, a Purple Heart recipient who served in the Korean War and died in 2009. Deployed to the war zone in December, he was a team leader and expert-level marksman while in Afghanistan.
The Rev. Christopher Malatesta, who celebrated the Mass with Timothy McConnell, bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, said he hoped the support and concern shown by those attending the service at the start of Memorial Day weekend would "bring the honor and respect that they deserve" to all who enter the military.
"In such an honorable and generous service, he has lost his life," Malatesta said of Daehling. But he added that "life is not measured in years," and it became evident to him during calling hours on Thursday that the young soldier and 2006 Wahconah Regional High School graduate had lived life fully and made a strong impression on those around him.
Photographs on display during the wake "show how much he valued the time he had with you," the priest told those who knew Daehling. "He wrote his story on your life, and that can't be taken away from you."
Army Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor said Daehling left "an indelible mark of a life in service."
Quoting from those who served with Daehling in Afghanistan, Trainor said the young soldier had matured beyond others his age and "grew into a true combat leader" while in the war zone.
"On May 14," he said, "Mitch was out front again, putting himself in harm's way."
Following the service, military honors normally conducted at the graveside were performed in front of the church. A light mist fell intermittently and at times faint thunder could be heard.
The honors included the playing of taps and a 21-gun salute and ceremonial folding and presentation of the flags.
Political figures in attendance appeared noticeably somber after the hearse and cars with the family had departed, escorted by a motorcycle escort.
State Rep. Paul Mark, who represents the Dalton area, said he was impressed by the outpouring of support shown the family and by Samantha Daehling's eulogy for her husband.
"It was amazing that someone would have the strength to do that," he said.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he thought it was important that political leaders from the region "just be here for support. We want to do what we can, now and later, for the family."
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