Family, friends, neighbors, dignitaries and the Riverhead community gathered today on Lewis Street in Riverhead, steps from the modest home in the working class community where Dashan Briggs was raised.
They shared memories of his childhood and youth and spoke about the man he had become: a leader, a soldier, a husband and father — a man destined for great things.
His life was cut short on March 15, when the military helicopter he was riding in went down in western Iraq. All seven men aboard the HH-60 Pave Hawk perished. (See prior story.) Briggs was 30 years old.
He left behind a young widow, Rebecca, to grieve his death and raise their two toddlers, Jayden and Ava without him.
Rebecca Briggs stood stoic and silent throughout today’s ceremonies, holding her children’s hands or taking them into her arms.
The fallen airman’s grandfather, Eli Briggs, who still lives in the house where his grandson was raised, spoke for the family. He thanked the community for its outpouring of support and love following the tragedy. He thanked town officials for honoring his grandson’s memory with the dedication of Lewis Street in his name. He thanked his grandson’s parents, Gregory Briggs and Sharon Young, for giving him such a fine grandson. And he thanked his grandson for giving him “a beautiful daughter, Rebecca.”
Briggs’ lifelong friend Jordan Harden remembered him as a go-getter.
“He wasn’t too much of a dreamer,” Harden said in remarks during today’s ceremony. “I don’t mean he didn’t dream. He had dreams. He just didn’t spend too much time dreaming. He went out and spent the time to do what was necessary to make his dreams come true,” he said.
“So don’t spend too much time dreaming. Get out there and do what you’ve got to do to accomplish your goals,” he said. “You can do it big, but if you went to take it a step further like Dashan did, you could do something special and you can do it Briggs.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith reminded those in attendance that the ceremony today was about much more than the renaming of a road.
“It’s a recognition of bravery, a tribute to the courage of the man that once lived here,” Jens-Smith said. “It’s a reminder of the strength it takes to leave the familiar and head for the unknown, to kiss your wife and children goodbye as you go off to fight for what you believe in,” she said.
“We can honor Dashan by reaching out to help someone in need, by stepping up to make our community stronger and safer, to make a difference in this world,” the supervisor said. “We can work to be courageous so that we can face life’s challenges with bravery. We can honor Dashan every day and be better people for it.” She said the street sign will serve as a permanent reminder of a man who did his best to make this world a better place.
“Dashan Briggs, we thank you and we salute you,” she said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin told the crowd gathered at the intersection of Lewis Street and Doris Avenue that Memorial Day weekend is a special weekend for the community and the country.
“This weekend we will remember all the men and women who have perished since last Memorial Day,” Zeldin said, and “through the generations all the men and women willing to lay down their lives in defense of this country because they love our flag, they love our freedoms and our liberties,” the congressman said.
“We know we get to live in the greatest nation in the world because of people like Dashan and his brothers and sisters at the 106th,” Zeldin said.
“Even though it may feel like a heart can be torn, at the same time this experience completely fills your heart up with warmth, with strength, love, respect and gratitude,” Zeldin said.
Four of the seven men aboard the downed Pave Hawk were members of the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton.
Col. Michael Bank, commander of the 106th, was on hand for today’s ceremonies. “Briggs was a great airman on his way to making a great career,” Bank said in an interview. “The sky was the limit.”
Briggs was always eager to help others, his commander said. He volunteered to help for both hurricanes Harvey and Irene and he volunteered to go overseas, too, Bank said.
A Color Guard from the 106th conducted a flag-folding ceremony and presented Briggs’ widow and grandfather with two expertly folded, perfect triangles.
“On behalf of the president of the United States, the USAF and a grateful nation please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service to their country,” the technical sergeant who oversaw the ceremony told Briggs’ grandfather and widow.
Briggs’ sisters, Heather and Daja Young, pulled the cord to unveil the new street sign, drawing the applause of a crowd of about 100 people.
Rebecca Briggs, holding the couple’s 1-year-old daughter on her hip and holding the hand of their 2-year-old son, craned her neck to get a good look at the new street sign.
The town presented her and Eli Briggs with identical signs to keep and the supervisor gave each of them a bouquet of flowers.
Briggs’ widow declined to be interviewed but said simply, “He was a great man.”
Briggs, a 2007 Riverhead High School graduate, was a true leader, his football coach, Leif Shay, said after the ceremony concluded.
“This is a great honor for a young man who truly deserved it,” Shay said. “I wish it wasn’t a memorial unfortunately, but it’s a great way to honor a great young man,” Shay said.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti
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