Video: Farewell to a fallen soldier

Rebecca Hyman

Sgt. Shane Duffy’s widow said he was already her hero. She added, "now you’re everybody’s."

“I could not be prouder of him and could never have found a better man to love,” said Jamie Duffy, shaking and through tears.

She promised her husband she’d take good care of their 9-month-old baby girl, Mackenzie.

“Ours was a true love and I count myself lucky even if we only had a few years,” she told the hundreds of mourners gathered to say good-bye to the fallen soldier, son of Taunton firefighter Keavin Duffy and Frances Duffy, inside St. Mary’s Church on Saturday morning.

Firefighters from around the region in dress blues lined the surrounding streets before and after the service, which was attended by numerous dignitaries, including Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Sen. John Kerry.

U.S. Army Sgt. Shane Padriag Duffy, 22, was killed in Iraq on June 4 with two other soldiers after their unit was attacked by enemy forces. The 2003 Taunton High School graduate was on his second tour of duty, deployed just two weeks after Mackenzie was born on Sept. 11, 2007.

Duffy, who was home for a brief visit days before he was killed, got to spend just 28 days with the baby girl he adored, said his younger sister Shanon.

Before he left, Shanon made a scrapbook. One of the entries was about the person she admires most. She picked her brother Shane.

“I love that he chose to fight for our country,” said Shanon, her voice choked with emotion.

Shane’s older brother, Keavin Duffy Jr., said some people may think of Shane on June 4 or on Veterans Day or Memorial Day.

“But for his family, we’ll be lifted by his love every day,” Keavin said.

Family members described a funny, playful young man with a big heart, a great love of life and a fierce devotion to his family and friends.

“He would do anything for anyone,” Jamie said of her “special, beautiful, loving man.”

Kerry said Shane’s sister Kelsey wrote him a note about her brother: “He was everybody’s best friend and my best friend.”

Shane wanted to be the best at everything he did and was not one to quit once he set his mind to something, loved ones said.

His brother told of the time Shane played football with a broken collarbone, which he hid from his mother, Frances, because he didn’t want to let his team down.

He was “a man forged in the fires” of honor, bravery and chivalry, Keavin said.

Keavin said he has received many hugs in the past week, but the one he wants most is the one he can’t have, the “Shane Duffy pick-you-up-off-the-ground-I-love-you bear hug.”

“When you are reminiscing about Shane and you feel your heart is breaking, remember this, your heart is not breaking. It is Shane on your left giving you a chest slap and saying, ‘Who loves you? Who loves you?’”

Jamie Duffy recalled the fun times and bonfires, Shane’s way with a story, but even more, how he was filled with love.

“If you miss him, talk to him, he is with us all,” she said.\

While he was stationed overseas, they talked a couple of times a week. He always yearned for news of home. He liked nothing better than to be surrounded by the people he loved. He was more worried about them than himself, Jamie said.

“Well, honey, we are all here for you,” she said.

Jamie shared letters her husband wrote from Iraq. She said they could talk about anything with each other.

He told her how he’d just picked up some soldiers in a Black Hawk helicopter.

“But how was your day? Do anything exciting?” he joked.

He told her how he longed to be home with her, just relaxing and spending time together. He dreamed of one day raising a houseful of “rug rats” with his “gorgeous wife.”

“You are my other half. I am complete now that I have you,” Shane wrote.

Kerry said Shane came from a long line of patriots. His great-grandfather fought in World War I, his grandfather in World War II, his uncle in Vietnam and his father is a firefighter.

“That’s the code of the Duffy family,” Kerry said.

As a fellow veteran he was honored to attend the funeral, Kerry said. As a father, he knew no words could describe Shane’s sacrifice.

“Once, he came home safely to America to a New England community that loves its veterans.”

“Now, Shane has come home again to a grateful nation and to family and neighbors who send him to rest with tears and tenderness and a lot of love.”

Brigadier Gen. Rhonda Cornum presented Shane’s family with his medals: a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and an Iraq Tour of Duty Medal.

Cornum said Shane had wanted to be a firefighter like his father when he got out of the Army.

“He would have been a perfect fireman, I am sure,” she said.

He already embodied the soldier’s creed, and it would have served him well as a firefighter, she said: mission first, never accept defeat, never quit and never leave a fallen comrade.

After the service, the church filled with the Irish blessing “May God Hold You in the Hollow of His Hand” followed by renditions of “God Bless America” and “The Green Fields of France,” also called “Willie McBride,” a mournful ballad of reflections on the gravestone of a 19-year-old soldier killed in World War I, with the haunting refrain “did they beat the drums slowly, did they play the fife lowly.”

And stanza:

“And did you leave a wife or sweetheart behind

In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined

And though you died back in 1916

To that loyal heart you’re forever nineteen”

Outside St. Mary’s Church, Shane’s casket was placed on a horse-drawn caisson as bag-pipers played “Amazing Grace.”

Loved ones followed in a slow procession behind the carriage, circling Taunton Green and then heading down Court Street en route to St. Francis Cemetery on North Walker Street. Residents lined the route waving flags, many in tears.

Taunton Call