DEXTER – U.S. Army Capt. John “Jay” Brainard was mourned, honored and buried Saturday, three weeks after the helicopter he was piloting crashed while on patrol in Afghanistan.

About 350 family members, friends and military officials packed St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church for his funeral, which began just after the sun emerged from a cloudy afternoon sky. A military committal service followed at Sawyer Cemetery in Plymouth.

The news media were not allowed inside the church for the service, but those who spoke about Brainard before and afterward said he will never be forgotten.

Maine Attorney General William Schneider, who represented Gov. Paul LePage at the funeral, said the service was touching.

“It was very, very dignified and appropriate,” he said. “It was a celebration of Capt. Brainard’s life. It just seemed like he was a terrific guy and somebody I wish I’d known. He was a true son of Maine, growing up loving the woods and hunting and fishing.”

Brainard, 26, was a 2004 graduate of Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft and a 2008 graduate of the University of Maine.

He was assigned to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Ansbach-Katterbach, Germany, supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. He and another soldier who was in the helicopter died on Memorial Day in Wardac province, Afghanistan, in a crash that remains under investigation. Initial reports indicate there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.

Schneider said Brainard’s uncle, Donald White, recalled his nephew’s childhood to those gathered.

“It was really, really special,” Schneider said. “You got a good feeling for who Jay Brainard really was. His wife and he were a true team. They met in college, at UMO, and they got married and traveled the world together.”

Brainard and Emily Southwick married in 2008. She arrived at the church in a U.S. government van and was escorted in by a military officer.

She walked through a line of 17 American flags and an Army flag held by military veterans, many of whom were part of the Patriot Guard Riders. They had ridden to the funeral on about 75 motorcycles.

“Emily is a brave young woman who was so supportive of his military career,” U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said to reporters before entering the church. “I told her our nation could not do what it does without her support.”

Snowe had just come from Crosby & Neal Funeral Home in Newport, where she had spoken with Brainard’s family.

She said it was important she attend the funeral to convey the country’s gratitude to the family.

“He was an extraordinary young man and he wanted to serve in the military,” Snowe said. “That was his goal and his dream.”

His family is experiencing tremendous pain and heartache, she said. “They’re holding up as best you can,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had visited the funeral home Friday night and spoken to the Brainard family at length.

Friends and family members started arriving at the church more than an hour before the service started.

U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-2nd District, was one of the first to arrive.

“I know that he felt strongly about his service and he definitely was committed to serving his country,” Michaud said. “It’s a great loss, but his family can rest assured he served our nation proudly and with honor.”

Despite the crowd that gathered, the area around the church was strikingly quiet except for the chirping of birds and the whining of a chain saw in the distance.

Maine State Police, as well as Dexter and Newport police officers, sheriff’s deputies and officials from all branches of the military, gathered and saluted as the funeral hearse arrived with the coffin carrying Brainard’s remains.

Military officers escorted the coffin, draped with an American flag, into the church.

Shortly afterward, the strains of “Be Not Afraid” flowed through the open church doors. A program said Christian symbols would be placed on the coffin, the 23rd Psalm would be recited by the congregation and the Lord’s Prayer would be read.

Standing across the street from the church, Dexter resident Leo Kerwock, 50, listened to the low hum of the congregation singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Kerwock said he did not know Brainard or his family, but he felt a closeness to them, and to all the veterans and military personnel attending the service.

“Everyone cries for someone who has been killed in the military — I don’t know how someone couldn’t,” Kerwock said. “This young man had his whole life ahead of him.”

As mourners sang “On Eagle’s Wings,” a monarch butterfly emerged beside a red pickup truck bearing a veteran’s license plate, fluttered in a wide circle, and flew out of sight.