Army Pfc. Jeffrey Braun of Stafford, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, died December 11, 2003 in Baghdad. The Department of Defense said he died from a "non-hostile gunshot wound." He was 19 years old.
STAFFORD -- Jeffrey Braun was raised in this north-central Connecticut town, a long way from his native Honduras. When he died last week, he was in Iraq, far from both the places he had known as home.
But at 19, even as he was serving in the U.S. Army and helping to fight a war, Braun was thinking about building an orphanage back in the country where he had been adopted.
The hundreds who attended Braun's funeral Friday learned that Meredith and William Braun, who adopted the boy born in the village of San Pedro Sula, will see that the orphanage he dreamed of is built by next December.
The Rev. Richard Forcier recounted the legacy of this 2002 Stafford High School graduate who became a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.
``Jeff's vision is so enlarged now because it's not simply his. It's global now,'' Forcier told those at St. Edward Roman Catholic Church.
The Army has not released details of Braun's Dec. 11 death in Iraq, except to say that he died of a nonhostile gunshot wound. The death is under investigation, military officials say.
While Braun's death thrust his accomplishments and his hopes into the spotlight, the funeral itself was quiet, somber.
His family declined military funeral honors. His body will be cremated and his ashes taken to Honduras.
Brig. Gen. Richard Rowe of the 82nd Airborne Division spoke about Braun's role serving as a member of Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment in the division.
Braun, he said, was a trusted and respected member of the unit. Rowe presented the Army commendation medal, for meritorious and honorable service, to William Braun.
During the homily, Forcier spoke of questions that he said hit to the core.
``Questions of why,'' he said. ``Sometimes we have no answers -- simply more questions.''
What was not in question Friday was the force of Braun's personality. The slim, 112-pound teen was always doing his part for the underdog.
Travis Gagnon, one of his closest buddies, shared a host of stories from friends. There was the time Braun made his friend pull over the car to rescue a turtle.
And there was the soccer match when the team needed a goalie. Without so much as a goalie's shirt, Braun volunteered to fill the spot.
``He was never afraid to try something new,'' Braun's sister, Julie, a junior at the high school, said in a eulogy read by Forcier.
The red-rimmed eyes of the young and old faces in the crowd were a testament to how generous Braun was with his warm personality.
Some friends came in blue-and-white wrestling jackets, a show of camaraderie for the four-sport varsity athlete. Others looked like they were wearing black suits for the first time.
Mark Dziewa was one of the dozens who stood in the cold listening to the service on loudspeakers.
Dziewa, who graduated a year after Braun, stayed through the service even though he and Braun ran in different circles at Stafford High School.
``It's the least I could do for him,'' Dziewa said. ``He was in the Army and he served us and protected us. He was out in the battlefield. Standing in the cold is nothing compared to that.''
Town officials and several high-ranking state officials were on hand, including Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and state Comptroller Nancy Wyman.
Blumenthal said he has gone to each of the funerals of the seven Connecticut armed services members who have died this year in Iraq.
``Each of them is moving and evoking and emphasizes the sacrifice the nation is making, beginning with the individual servicemen and their families,'' Blumenthal said. ``They have given so much and they are continuing to pay the price.''
Brett Toney, who had been captain of the Stafford High wrestling team, said he had talked to Braun only hours before he died.
``It wasn't like it was going to be the last time we were ever going to talk,'' said Toney, a freshman at the University of Connecticut. ``He said he couldn't wait to come home. Now I'm the one who's got to wait for him.''
Braun was supposed to finish his tour and go to college, complete the next phase of his grand plan.
Now, Toney will forever wonder what that plan was. In Braun's last year at Stafford High School, the two had to write letters to themselves as part of a psychology class. The teacher was going to mail the letters back to them five years later.
``I think about what's going to happen to that letter now,'' Toney said.
- ROSELYN TANTRAPHOL And LIZABETH HALL