Chicopee bids farewell to another hometown soldier

By Claire L. Cummings, Globe Correspondent July 6, 2007

CHICOPEE — The fallen soldier’s little boy smiled as Governor Deval L. Patrick gave him a comforting rub on the back. The 1-year-old, dressed in a gray Army exercise shirt and miniature camouflage pants, is already the spitting image of his father, relatives said.
As family and friends gathered yesterday to remember Army Staff Sergeant Daniel A. Newsome, they recalled that his life’s mission was to raise his son to be a great man. For those who love and miss Newsome, who died June 27 in Baghdad from injuries he sustained in an explosion, it is a mission they will now make their own.

“All of us are the mold that made Dan the man he was, and though we cannot make a new Dan . . . a new Staff Sergeant Daniel Allan Newsome, we can do our best to mold and shape a man very much like him,” said Eric Ritter, the soldier’s stepfather. “He already looks like his Daddy. His little hands and feet are Dan’s. He has Dan’s eyes. And when he frowns, his forehead wrinkles just like his Dad’s did.”

Others said the 27-year-old Newsome was a responsible leader who took his job seriously, but thrived on making people laugh.

“I always felt a little safer when we patrolled, because I knew he wouldn’t hesitate to do what he’d have to do to save my life,” Staff Sergeant Jack Schnackenberg told those in attendance.
Newsome lay in an open casket, his face lighted by a chandelier. Poster boards lined one side of the room, which displayed photographs from several phases of the soldier’s life, from his own baby picture to a group shot with friends in front of a limousine before a high school dance.
A slide show projected dozens of images to the tune of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” Whether he’s holding his newborn child or lounging in uniform in Iraq, Newsome is smiling in nearly every photo.

In addition to Patrick, several law enforcement officers and firefighters also attended the service.

Yesterday also marked the first day that flags on state buildings were lowered to half-staff for the burial of a Massachusetts soldier killed in war, following Patrick’s order this week. Newsome’s uncle, Concord Fire Chief Kenneth Willette, lobbied the state to revisit its policy on the practice, long reserved for political leaders.

Newsome is the third soldier from Chicopee to die in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts. The city’s mayor said his death has overwhelmed the area.

“Each one’s bad, but the multiple impact on the community has just been terrible,” Mayor Michael D. Bissonnette said after the service. “The only results of Bush’s surge that we see are the number of caskets coming home. It’s not sitting well with people.”

Outside the hall, some shoppers at a nearby supermarket paused from packing away groceries to silently watch the procession leave for Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Agawam. Others stood in the Castle of Knights parking lot as several soldiers escorted Newsome’s casket to the hearse.

“It’s overwhelming for what they’re doing for this gentleman,” said Tammy Boucher, 48, of Chicopee. “. . . It’s a nice thing to see that everybody pulls together.”

Don and Shirley Dunham had seen the giant American flag suspended from two fire engines outside the hall and walked over to pay their respects. Their grandson was expected home soon for a two-week leave from Iraq.

“In World War II, you knew who your enemy was; you knew who you were fighting,” said Don Dunham, 79, who also served in the Korean war. “Over there, you don’t even know who the enemy is. Everybody’s your enemy. That’s why this kid got killed; he didn’t know who shot him.”

Newsome had just visited home a couple of weeks ago. During his break, Bissonnette said, the soldier and his wife, Karen, began planning for civilian life; his enlistment was up in February.
“It’s unfathomable to see people with so much promise have their lives snuffed out like this,” he said.

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