The more than 600 people who gathered Monday to celebrate the war-shortened life of Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw heard in his own words the secret of a life well-lived.
“Service (to others) is the foundation of life,” Bradshaw wrote in a paper read at the celebration at St. John Bosco Catholic Church in Lakewood. He had written it as a junior at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma.
“Without service our lives have the same impact and meaning as a stick lying on the ground. No one remembers the sticks stepped on in the woods, but everyone remembers the flowers ... If we serve and work throughout our lives, we will be the flowers that everyone remembers.”
The 24-year-old U.S. Army first lieutenant from Steilacoom died June 24 of wounds suffered in Kheyl, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device exploded near him.
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He was the first Pierce County service member to die in Afghanistan in more than year. He was also the first member of his unit – 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team – to die there since the unit was deployed in February.
Members of the Patriots Guard Riders stood guard outside the church with their flags and motorcycles. The veterans organization attends the funeral of fallen soldiers to honor them and protect their families from any disturbances.
Eight soldiers carried Bradshaw’s flag-draped casket into the church. Among them were former classmates from the Army ROTC program at Pacific Lutheran University. Bradshaw graduated from PLU and the ROTC program two years ago.
The pallbearers carefully folded the flag into the traditional tri-cornered shape and replaced it with a white and gray funeral pall for the service. The Rev. Lee Hightower, who officiated at the Mass of Celebration, sprinkled the casket with holy water.
Bradshaw’s parents, Paul and Mary, followed the casket to the front of the church. Both are retired military. His mother, a nurse, returned to service to work with the Warriors Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis.
In his remarks, Hightower noted that “very rarely will a high school junior recognize what life is really all about” but through Bradshaw’s paper “you will see the soul of a real American hero.”
Throughout his life Bradshaw was more concerned about others than about himself in high school, college and the military, High tower said.
“He went to Afghanistan firmly believing he could help the people who were suffering over there,” Hightower said. “It was there that he lay down his life for us. No greater love has anyone than to lay his down his life for another.”
He called Bradshaw “truly Army Strong” long before the Army adopted the phrase.
In his eulogy, Bradshaw’s father recalled a son who “lived his life in high gear.” As part of the family, Brian and his younger brother Robert did all the regular stuff: camping, skiing, swimming, trips to museums, family reunions.
The elder Bradshaw provoked laughter when he recalled a trip to Disney World when his older son was less than 2 years old. The family stopped at a bandstand show where they figured their exhausted son would conk out even before the program began.
“As soon as the band started he jumped up and, standing in front of the bandstand, danced with a wild abandon only a child can have,” Paul Bradshaw recalled.
Talking to Bradshaw’s friends who stopped by Sunday, his father said, “It sounded like he still did that and he hadn’t improved his moves any.”
He recalled his son’s service as a campus leader at PLU, as a Catholic Youth organization camp counselor and as a team leader with Pierce County Search and Rescue.
When commissioned a second lieutenant, Bradshaw chose the infantry and the Alaska combat unit.
“He was prepared for the honor of leading men in the field and much too soon he would lose his life,” Paul Bradshaw said.
“I hope some day there will be an Afghan diplomat who remembers (my son), whether he knew his name or not,” the father said, adding he hoped that envoy would know his son passed through with a rifle but also passed out pencils and candy.
Bradshaw’s parents and 30-plus family members from around the country followed his casket out of the church.
Later in the afternoon, they followed him one last time. Led by the Patriots Guard Riders, the long funeral procession made its way to Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, where Bradshaw was buried with full military honors.
Before leaving the church, Paul Bradshaw spoke of his son.
“Today is the saddest day of my life,” the elder Bradshaw said. “But I’m still a lucky man. “I knew Brian Bradshaw for 24 years.”
Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692