Fort Polk's littlest Soldier fallen
May 16, 2011
Brennan Daigle, 10, lost his battle with cancer May 5. When I met him at the end of February for his 10th birthday and honorary induction into the Army, he had already outlived his prognosis by days. Despite knowing this, he was happy and gracious: Though he must have been in pain and was, as he said himself, shy, he never stopped smiling.
I wrote about Brennan, his story and my experience at his birthday party, in the March 4 edition of The Guardian. In the story, "Staying Army Strong: Littlest Soldier receives biggest wish," I wrote that he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in 2008 and by February of this year, there was nothing more that doctors could do for him. He went home to die with his family around him.
Since he was a little boy, and especially after he began fighting the battle for his life, he loved all things Army; as his illness worsened, he and his family formed the Facebook page "Brennan\'s Brigade" as a way to keep family and friends apprised of his condition.
Before the negative prognosis, he had wanted to be in the Army some day. That wish seemed impossible, until Feb. 26 and his honorary induction as a first sergeant into the Army.
After the barbecue lunch, the present opening and the tiered cake decorated with the Army emblem, he took time to speak to me about his love of the Army, his outlook and his faith. Throughout the conversation, he was unfailingly polite. He called me "ma'am" just as a Soldier would do. He wore dogtags, an Army jacket that had been presented to him and practiced his salute. Many Soldiers from Fort Polk's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and the Louisiana National Guard were there to support him. They stood in formation and saluted him, shook his hand and hugged him. He beamed.
I am proud to have been a part of that day, to have seen Fort Polk so well represented, proud of the 1st MEB for doing something so extraordinary for a little boy none of the Soldiers personally knew. I was also honored to meet Brennan; though I had originally been afraid my emotions might overwhelm me when I talked with him, I was strangely calm. In remembering our talk that day, I tried to put words to it, saying to a friend, "It was like an aura surrounded him and he was of another world."
I certainly wasn't the only one who thought so. After Brennan's story was published, his Facebook page, "Brennan's Brigade," was "liked" by more than 40,000 people. Comments to his wall came from across the globe. Troops in Afghanistan and Iraq were fighting for him. They flew flags in his honor. He received stacks of mail, cards and gifts from well-wishers. "You will always be my battle buddy," wrote one Soldier. "You made me proud to wear the same uniform as you," wrote another. "You have brought our town together," wrote someone from Brennan's hometown, Westlake, La. "It's amazing the different types of people and communities you have brought together in such a special way," wrote someone else. "Although I didn't know you, you're extremely missed." "You have taught so many people to live their lives to the fullest," wrote a woman from South Carolina.
Brennan taught many people how to live life to the fullest, how to remember not to take things for granted. Waiting in line at the grocery store, being cut off by a fast driver or getting through a tough workday are the little battles we fight every day. Brennan fought the biggest battle a person can fight, and what seems like an unfair one. His battle, though, which became increasingly public, inspired others and brought out waves of love. Those sorts of battles don't happen very often.
And when the cancer began to overtake him, when the tumor impeded the movement of the right side of his face and he lost control of muscle movement, he still never stopped smiling: He used a finger to lift up his lips instead. This was a strength that went beyond human-bound things like armies, battalions, castles. This was grace.