THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

A solemn return for Fall River Guardsman killed in Afghanistan

8 Mass. soldiers hurt in attack

Sgt. Robert J. Barrett was killed in a bombing. Sgt. Robert J. Barrett was killed in a bombing.
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / April 30, 2010

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In an e-mail dispatch from Afghanistan, an Army reservist from Rhode Island described the aftermath of a suicide attack that killed a Fall River native as he and several medics scrambled to the site: “Good God, I will never forget the scene. Clearly 2 US were wounded, pretty bad.’’

Sergeant Robert J. Barrett, 20, a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 101st Field Artillery Regiment and the father of a 2-year-old girl, was killed by a suicide bomber on April 19 in Kabul. Major Kevin Morrissey, an Army Reservist from Rhode Island was in a two-story building less than 200 yards away during the attack, and was at the scene within three minutes.

Eight other Massachusetts National Guardsmen were wounded in the attack. Lisa Ahaesy, a Guard spokeswoman, declined to comment on their conditions, saying the incident was under investigation. She also declined to release their names, citing policy.

Morrissey, who remains deployed in Afghanistan, is a math teacher and varsity boys hockey coach at Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island. He sent regular updates on his experiences back to the school.

Barrett’s body was flown in yesterday to Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford. Today, he is expected to be returned to the place where he got his first taste of the military, his alma mater, B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River. His flag-draped casket will be on display inside the school’s auditorium. He graduated from the school in 2007 and participated in its Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, serving as commanding officer of his unit.

The explosion occurred at about 11 a.m., according to Morrissey, who wrote that after the blast, “a US lieutenant in our battalion came running up and said ‘I need a medic, Now.’ His next words chilled me, ‘we have US wounded.’ ’’

While one soldier provided aid to a wounded serviceman, a medic tried to resuscitate Barrett. An Afghan Army ambulance was on the scene within minutes, and Barrett was rushed inside and transported to a nearby pickup zone, where he was placed in a helicopter about 15 minutes after the blast.

Morrissey wrote, “Despite our best efforts, this young kid died en route. The guy was not even 21, had a young daughter, and I cannot imagine what his family is going through right now.’’

Morrissey then described how approximately six hours later, more than 200 soldiers stood at attention and saluted as Barrett’s body was flown out of their camp on the first leg of his flight home.

“I can assure you there was not a dry eye on the flight line,’’ he wrote.

Barrett’s casket arrived at Hanscom yesterday morning. A procession, led by motorcycles, with a hearse carrying the casket and a vehicle transporting the family, made the roughly 70-mile trip to Fall River. The procession ended on Pleasant Street at the South Coast Funeral Home.

Classes at Durfee High School will be dismissed at 1:30 p.m. today, and a public viewing will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be said tomorrow at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Second Street. Burial at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne will take place after the funeral.

Manuel DePonte, the head of Veterans’ Services for the city, spent time with Barrett’s family yesterday.

“They got to see his body for the first time, and I believe they got some closure from that, despite the incredible sadness they are feeling for their huge loss,’’ he said. “This is a true hero, a fallen hero from our small city.’’

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