Army Chief Warrant Officer William Brennan died Oct. 16, 2004 when the helicopter he was flying collided with another over Baghdad. He grew up in Behlehem, Conn., and leaves a wife and two daughters in Hawaii. He was 36 years old.
When one of William Brennan's nieces e-mailed him last year to sign a petition against the brewing U.S.-led war in Iraq, the Army helicopter pilot gently declined.
No one prays for peace more than a soldier, the Bethlehem native replied in an e-mail.
"If the U.S. ends up going to war against Iraq, I will be there. Yeah, maybe there is oil involved. Yeah, maybe there is a lot of politics involved. But if I can end one person's suffering that is caused by a man such as Saddam [Hussein]," he wrote, "I could care less what anybody thinks."
On Saturday, the 36-year-old died when the Bell helicopter he was flying collided with another over Baghdad, the U.S. Defense Department said Monday. Brennan leaves his wife, Kathy, and two daughters, who live in Hawaii.
And as Brennan's tightknit family continued to digest the loss Monday, they recalled him in much the same way as his e-mail suggests: a man who believed in the mission he was handed and a soldier who wanted to make a difference.
"I'm proud of him and I'm proud of what he did," Theresa "T.J." Brennan, Brennan's sister-in-law, said during a brief afternoon lull in a day filled with telephone calls, television interviews and funeral arrangements. She and other family members gathered for several hours at her restaurant and inn, Curtis House, in Woodbury - just next door to the rural eastern Connecticut town of 7,200 in which Brennan grew up the youngest of seven children.
Brennan, his family said, was not nervous about leaving for Iraq. He was a capable soldier whose 15-year military career included a tour in Bosnia and flying surveillance helicopters around New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
What he did not like was leaving behind his wife of six years and his daughters. The separation was so hard for Brennan that in some ways he wondered if his two-week return this summer to his family in Hawaii was a mixed blessing - he would get to see the smiling faces he had not seen since December only to have to leave them again.
"He was hoping to finish his tour and then leave Hawaii, where he has been stationed, for a permanent assignment somewhere in the South. He loved it there," T.J. Brennan said.
She sat in front of her computer at Curtis House, opening e-mails that Brennan and his family had exchanged over the months. There were photos of Brennan leaning against a helicopter and a picture of one of his daughters with a painted tattoo of an army helicopter - the kind her daddy flew - on her cheek.
Brennan's family remembered him Monday as a prankster, a fun-loving dad who doted on his daughters. Even as an adult, he was a kid who still collected comic books and had a weakness for Snickers bars.
"If you ever saw the "Little Rascals Show" - he was just like that, always doing something," said his older brother, Nick Brennan, the memory prompting a smile across his weary face.
As a kid, Will rode around the neighborhood with Ralph, the family cat, perched on his head.
He was the kind of guy who would make a friend wherever he went, a person who could make the most serious of folks crack a smile, his family said.
His nieces nicknamed him "Uncle Buck," after the goofy movie character played in a 1980s comedy by the late John Candy.
"He was like a 36-year-old child," Theresa Brennan, 18, said of her uncle. "The party didn't start until he was there."
Theresa Brennan received a Halloween card from her uncle on Saturday - the day before the family learned of his death.
"He wrote, `Wow, time truly flies and I remember you being a little girl and now you're 18," she said Monday, wiping her tears with the sleeve of her shirt. "He said, `I'm going to make it up, the time that we lost.'"
Theresa Brennan knew her uncle's service in Iraq was dangerous, but the possibility of injury or death seemed remote.
"I just saw him being the old man that would tell his war stories, you know?"
The cause of the accident that killed Brennan, a chief warrant officer, and the other pilot, Capt. Christopher Johnson, 29, of Missouri, is under investigation. Both men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 25th Aviation, 25th Infantry Division out of Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii.
Brennan is the 17th person with ties to Connecticut killed in Afghanistan or Iraq since March 2002.
William Brennan was an altar boy, graduating in 1986 from Holy Cross High School in Waterbury. He was a Boy Scout and 4-H member in Bethlehem and played lacrosse in high school, his family said.
Called "Will" by most of the family, he received his associate's degree from Mattatuck Community College before joining the Army and becoming a pilot. His inspiration was his late godfather, William Horvay, an Army helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam.
His late father, Nicholas Brennan, was a commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and an uncle was a bomber pilot in World War II and in Korea.
On Monday, Gov. M. Jodi Rell requested that all state flags be lowered to half-staff until sundown on the day of his interment.
"My heart goes out to the Brennan family," Rell said. "No words can make their loss any easier to bear. I honor CWO Brennan for his service to our nation and I know the entire state joins me in mourning his loss."
In one of the e-mails the family shared Monday, Brennan wrote the niece who had asked him to sign the anti-war petition that he supports the right to demonstrate but also supports America's intervention in Iraq.
"Throughout your family's history there have been many times [your father, grandfathers, uncles and cousins] had to leave to defend freedom. Do not ever take your right to free speech for granted. Demonstrate all you want.
"I love demonstrations. The ones that realize that someone fought and died for them to have that right, I respect even more. Love, Uncle Will."