Skip to main content

Army captain creates college fund for boy who lost dad in Chinook

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
Click to play
Boy wants recognition for dead father

Watch Army Capt. Jamie Schwandt discuss how to give to the Braydon Nichols college fund in the 10 a.m. ET hour Monday on CNN's Newsroom with Kyra Philips.

(CNN) -- An Army captain has established a college trust fund for the 10-year-old who posted an iReport honoring his dad, who died in the recent Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Capt. Jamie Schwandt says that when he learned about little Braydon Nichols' iReport, he was gripped with a sense of urgency. He wanted to help the boy and the Nichols family in a way that would be lasting. And whatever he did, it would be more than just a move from a member of the military. It would come from a friend.

Schwandt was in Bryan Nichols' wedding. The two served side by side in 2003.

"The family needs support, and it's affirming that it's come from so many different people across the world, but this fund will go straight to Braydon. We want him to not have to worry about this," Schwandt told Thursday.

Braydon Nichols College Fund
Online donations

Checks should be made to Braydon Nichols and mailed to Simons Accounting and Financial Services
C/o Braydon Nichols Fund
1007 Cody Avenue
Hays, Kansas 67601

CNN has confirmed that the fund will accept donations through PayPal. They can be made online here, or checks can be mailed to the Hays, Kansas, office of an accountant who helped set up the fund with Schwandt. That address is in a box attached to this story.

Jessica Nichols, Braydon's mother, said she's been touched by the many offerings of emotional support and financial assistance people have posted on in response to a story Monday about her son.

Braydon Nichols was watching the television news with his mother on Sunday, a day after they began grappling with the horrible news that Bryan Nichols was among the SEALs and other U.S. and Afghan personnel who died when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan.

Braydon was watching as news reports showed pictures of other soldiers, and he asked his mother why they weren't showing pictures of his dad. She told him that people who knew those men had probably gone online and posted those photographs.

The little boy gave that some thought.

Then he told her to go to the computer. He wanted to post an iReport.

Braydon picked out a photo that he wanted the world to see. It was his dad sitting in his jump uniform next to other soldiers. He described to her what he wanted to say.

So she wrote: "I have seen other pictures of victims from this deadly mission and wish you would include a picture of my father. He is the farthest to the left. Sincerely, Braydon Nichols, 10 yrs old Kansas City, MO."

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

Since a report about Braydon's post was published this week, the boy has been transfixed reading it and readers' comments. He's trying to keep up with the volume of responses. By Thursday,'s audience had created more than 20 pages of tributes to the fallen soldier.

"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 reader's response:

Navy SEALs 'magnificent Americans'
Insurgents who downed copter killed

"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 few days -- more than 65 by Thursday morning.

In addition to emotional support for Braydon and his family, several people have asked how they can give money to the Nichols family.

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 to say that the deaths of Nichols and the others on the Chinook 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."'s Home and Away, which chronicles in an online database every service member 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 others who have died since the 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 enjoys the news and is often on a computer, searching 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.

The 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 from his dad for Christmas.

Jessica Nichols' voice breaks when she 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. She and Braydon are taking it 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 the comments from strangers across the world, though. She is sure of that.

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

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