NEWPORT – An aunt and uncle who helped to raise Jay Brainard said Wednesday that the soldier from Newport loved the Maine outdoors, loved his family and was honored to serve in the military.

“The guy shined; he shined,” said his uncle Donald White, 58, of Atkinson. “My heart is busted in half.”

Brainard, 26, a captain in the Army, was killed on Memorial Day when the AH-64 helicopter he was piloting crashed near Kabul, Afghanistan.

Brainard’s brother Benjamin Hawthorne, 24, said he and Jay had a typical brother relationship — wrestling and horsing around — but one of mutual respect.

“Jay was always a hero to me, and I always looked up to him,” Hawthorne said. “He always did so good in school; he did so good in the Army. I was always so proud of him.

“He was my hero, and now I’m proud to say he’s our country’s hero,” he said.

White and his wife, Nancy, said Brainard came to live with them when he was 11 and stayed with them until he graduated from Foxcroft Academy in 2004.

They said the boy reveled in a rural, back-to-the-land lifestyle, in a log cabin with a hand-pump water well, where he had to snowshoe to the main road to get to the school bus in winter.

“He loved the outdoors, loved camping, hiking and hunting, and he was creative,” Nancy White said. “He was going to be an architectural engineer until he got into high school, when he decided that he wanted to be in the military.”

She said he was an honor student in high school who played jazz trumpet, was a member of the swim team and played for the state Class C champion Foxcroft Academy football team in 2003.

He was commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant in the Aviation Corps on May 9, 2008. He also graduated from the University of Maine that year with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“He chose me and Nancy to pin his wings on him when he got commissioned as an officer,” Donald White said.

The Whites said Brainard’s father, John Brainard II, has gone to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where he will meet his son’s remains as they are brought to the United States.

He will be there with his son’s wife, Emily, who met her husband when they were college students together.

Nancy White said Jay Brainard was close to his maternal grandparents, Louise and Leonard Bresnahan, a Marine who served in the Pacific in World War II.

Hawthorne said his brother wanted to be buried in Plymouth, near his grandfather, if he died while serving overseas. That is the plan, Hawthorne said, but a date has not been set.

“Part of Jay’s love for the military was his love for his grandfather,” Nancy White said. “He will be coming back to Maine; he will be buried in Maine.”

Also killed in Monday’s crash was Chief Warrant Officer 5 John Pratt, 51, of Springfield, Va. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, said Capt. Michael Weisman at the Army’s public affairs office in Heidelberg, Germany. Additional details had not been released Wednesday.

Initial reports from The Associated Press said there was no enemy activity in the area when the helicopter crashed.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

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