your connection to The Boston Globe

Franklin soldier is slain in Iraq

Mashpee mourns its own war dead

Robert Pirelli was a Green Beret. Robert Pirelli was a Green Beret. (WCVB TV 5 NEWS)

FRANKLIN -- News of Staff Sergeant Robert Pirelli's death in Iraq spread quickly through town yesterday, touching Franklin officials who never knew the 29-yearold Green Beret.

"It's a terrible tragedy," said Jeffrey D. Nutting, Franklin's town administrator, as he and other town employees answered calls from residents about Pirelli's death, including one from a local church member asking whether it was proper to lower the church's US flag to half-staff in the soldier's honor. Nutting said it was.

"You never think it's going to hit home" Nutting said. "You see it on TV and in the papers, but it's always somebody else."

This time it was Pirelli, a member of the Army's special forces who was due home in October, according to family members. The military did not release details of his death.

Family and friends of Pirelli declined to comment yesterday, saying they preferred to wait until they knew more.

Bob Fahey, Franklin's veterans agent, said Pirelli had been killed in combat. Pirelli's family learned of his death Wednesday night, Fahey said.

While Pirelli's loved ones gathered outside his mother's house, friends and family of a woman who was killed in Iraq last week and who belonged to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe came together to mourn her death.

Staff Sergeant Alicia A. Birchett, 29, of Mashpee died in Iraq on Aug. 9 when a truck's brakes failed while she was changing a tire, her family said yesterday.

Birchett, whose Indian name was Little Brown Bee, was a 1995 graduate of Falmouth High School, where she participated in the honor guard, family members said.

While serving five tours of duty, Birchett married and had three children, boys ages 7, 4, and 2, said her aunt, Laverne Jackson. Birchett's husband, Joe Louis Birchett, whom she met while in the military, raised the boys while their mother was fulfilling her life's mission.

"She just believed somebody had to do it," Jackson said. "We are really going to miss her. She's a really caring person. She was a happy person.

"She was a very, very good mother. Alicia just wanted to make her family proud."

Birchett, who grew up on Cape Cod, had just purchased a home with her husband in Tennessee, Jackson said. Although Birchett was serving overseas, Jackson said, she never lost sight of what mattered to her most -- her family and her tribe.

"Every chance she got she went on leave; she grabbed her kids and took them to see the family," Jackson said.

She said Birchett was particularly gratified that the Wampanoag had received federal recognition earlier this year.

"She was very involved with the tribe. . . . She was so proud," she said.

Birchett will be laid to rest tomorrow in Indian Meetinghouse Cemetery in Mashpee, wearing traditional burial robes.

"We don't mean any disrespect to the military, but she will be buried in our cemetery," she said. "That's what she would have wanted."