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Boy's ode to fallen dad inspires tearful responses

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
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Boy wants recognition for dead father
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Braydon Nichols' iReport on his late father and a CNN.com story generated big response
  • The 10-year-old's iReport had a picture of Army pilot dad who died in crash in Afghanistan
  • E-mails expressed support for the Nichols family and offered to give Braydon money for college
  • The boy is looking at all of the readers' comments, his mother says

(CNN) -- The story of a 10-year-old who posted an iReport honoring his dad who died in the recent Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan has sparked a huge outpouring from CNN.com readers.

It was Braydon Nichols' desire, his mother, Jessica Nichols, told CNN that his dad not just be another faceless casualty in the nearly decade-long war. The boy wanted the world to see his father's face, just as news reports showed the faces of other soldiers who lost their lives in the crash. So on his iReport, Braydon posted a picture of Army Chief Warrant Officer Bryan Nichols, a pilot, in his jump uniform sitting next to other soldiers.

"Braydon wanted people to know that Bryan was a daddy and a good daddy," his mother told CNN.

After a report about Braydon's post was published Tuesday, the boy became transfixed with reading it and began going over readers' comments. He's trying to keep up with the volume of responses. By Thursday, readers had created more than seven pages of tributes to Bryan Nichols on CNN.com.

"He keeps going back to see what new comments are on there, and then he turns away and does something else, goes to play a video game or something, because he's overwhelmed," Jessica Nichols said. "I'm trying to help Braydon understand that the comments are like all those people trying to talk to him directly to tell him that his dad is a hero."

A comment from Debbie Herron of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, represents the tone of nearly every readers' response:

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"What an incredible young man -- to take it upon himself to remind everyone that others, just like his dad, also died in the incident. Just the fact that it took a 10-year old to remind everyone of that is overwhelming," Herron wrote. "That's a very caring, courageous young man. I would like Braydon to know that his dad has not and will not be forgotten."

Many iReports have poured in over the past 24 hours in response. In addition to emotional support for Braydon and his family, several people have asked how they can give money to the Nichols family.

A fellow Army soldier who served alongside Bryan Nichols in 2003 and is close with the soldier's family is working on setting up a PayPal account so that money can be donated directly to a trust fund for Braydon's college. When the account is established and verified, CNN.com will post an update.

Dozens have said they'd like to mail a letter to the boy's Kansas City, Missouri, home in the hopes that the gesture might make him feel less alone.

One father posted an iReport picturing himself hugging his son who recently turned 10. Shervin Kalinia told Braydon that he and his son want to buy Braydon his favorite LEGO set and help him construct it in person.

Others have said that Braydon's story simply made them cry.

"Your story gave me chills," a commenter wrote on Braydon's iReport. "I have a son your exact age. My heart breaks for you. My mother died when I was very young. Someone once told me, 'You'll think about her every day of your life.' It's true, you'll think of your father every day."

Others offered their perspectives on losing someone who, like Bryan Nichols, was doing his job to protect the public good.

"Braydon: I have been a policeman for over 30 years and have lost friends suddenly over the years. Myself and all their friends remember them every day! Please know that your dad will be remembered by people who knew him and people who did not ever meet him, but are thankful for what he did for all of us. You have made him proud."

Several readers contacted CNN to say that Nichols' death, and the deaths of all the U.S. and Afghan personnel aboard that Chinook on Saturday -- the worst single-day loss of American life since the beginning of the Afghan war -- put their problems into perspective.

"Working in investment management, the news of the week/month/year/decade has seemingly been all about the economy and when I heard the news of the fallen Chinook ... it really brought me back to life and provided me with some perspective," wrote Paul Leonardo of Chicago. "Quite candidly, your story moved me and left me feeling tired, as I'm sure many Americans are."

CNN.com's Home and Away, which chronicles in an online database every soldier who has died in the Afghanistan war, posted Bryan Nichols' profile Wednesday. It's open for comments. Readers can delve into that site to learn more about other American casualties and incidents that have occurred in Wardak province where the Chinook went down. They can learn about the lives of other soldiers who have died since war began in late 2001.

Back at home, Braydon will start a new school year in two weeks, his mother said. He liked to report to his dad what he did in class because the two would talk about how fun it was to memorize facts and keep looking for more. That's how Braydon knew about iReport -- he's enjoys the news and is often on a computer, searching and hunting to know more.

Braydon was looking forward to his father coming back from Afghanistan soon. When Bryan Nichols was killed, he had been on deployment for two months. It was supposed to be a short run. The soldier had been deployed at least three previous times in his career.

Father and son were planning a camping trip together soon.

And just like a kid, in the middle of summer, Braydon was already excitedly talking about the cool outdoor gear he hoped he'd get for Christmas from his dad.

Jessica Nichols' voice breaks when tells this story. As a mother whose child's heart is aching horribly and, in many ways, always will, she cannot contemplate Christmas.

That is too much. Braydon and she are going day by day, she said. Today she holds him if he is crying. Tomorrow she'll do the same. She has no idea how he'll handle the funeral.

Her son will keep reading all of the comments from strangers across the world though. She is sure of that.

For him, she said, the simplest lines seem best.

"No need to worry, buddy," wrote one reader. "No one will ever, ever forget your dad."

 
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