Chief Warrant Officer William Brennan
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.'"