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Army Sgt. James A. McHale

Died July 30, 2008 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

31, of Fairfield, Mont.; assigned to the 40th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Baumholder, Germany; died July 30 at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., from wounds sustained July 22 in Taji, Iraq, when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device.

Fairfield salutes fallen soldier

By Kim Skornogoski

Great Falls Tribune

FAIRFIELD — Two others were in the Humvee, but Sgt. James McHale took the brunt of the roadside bomb — that’s the way he would have wanted it.

Serving his second tour in Iraq, McHale was scheduled to return to the states in February, but chose to stay.

“He told Dad, ‘I’m not coming home. I’m not leaving my soldiers. When they come home, I’ll come home, too,’” his older brother Michael McHale told the crowd gathered in the Fairfield High School gymnasium to honor the fallen soldier.

After eight days in a coma, McHale, 31, died July 30. His family chose to donate his organs, helping eight other people live — again just as Jimmy would have wanted it.

Hundreds attended McHale’s funeral in Fairfield on Friday.

Dozens more lined the streets to show their appreciation as the processional passed. Boys held flags taller than they were; men stood along the highway, hats on hearts; women waited in lawn chairs for the family to drive by.

As many wore red, white and blue as black to the funeral.

According to the Associated Press, McHale was the 24th Montana soldier to die in Iraq since the war began in 2003.

McHale signed up to join the Army before he graduated in 1995, following in his older brother and best friend’s footsteps. He spent a few years in the Montana Army National Guard, attended school in Colorado, then rejoined the Army, this time in the more dangerous field of identifying bombs.

Michael McHale said his brother thrived on the challenge and was well suited to both blow up and build bridges, roads and buildings.

During Friday’s ceremony, Maj. Gen. Randy Mosley awarded McHale with a bronze star awarded for bravery and merit and the Purple Heart for being injured in the line of duty.

“It’s about duty, honor and self sacrifice,” Mosley said. “We are forever in his debt.”

Rev. Dougald McCallum conducted a full Catholic funeral mass, acknowledging that McHale’s service and bravery are an example to everyone.

“Jimmy knew every day that he was in services — especially when in Iraq — that today could be my last day on earth,” McCallum said.

Several MANG officers who worked with McHale drove to Fairfield for the funeral. An honor guard, including officers from each military branch, lined the sidewalk in front of the school, holding flags high above their heads.

Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Rep. Denny Rehberg also attended Friday’s funeral.

Staff Sgt. Ronald Becker, who served with McHale for three years in the Guard, described him as happy-go-lucky and a dedicated soldier.

“You never had to worry about him,” Becker said after the service. “He always came to you wanting to do something more.”

His family also remembered him as an animal lover, a skilled golfer and a prankster, whose jokes were never at anyone else’s expense.

“He loved to play games — the bigger the challenge the better,” Michael McHale said.

At the internment, his family released a white dove in his name, followed by a flock of doves in honor of all those who died in the line of duty.

Five Army officers fired three shots into the air, while another played taps on a trumpet. The flag that draped his coffin was carefully folded and handed to his mother, Bonnie McHale, who often leaned on her husband, Joel, and surviving son.

Michael McHale hopes to get a humanitarian reassignment. He is currently serving his second tour in Iraq.

“His actions represented his dedication to the United States of America,” Army Capt. Tim Crow said. “He will be forever remembered for his actions.”

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