It’s strange what comes to mind when news of a tragedy arrives. When I was awoken early Sunday with the news Dain Venne of Port Henry had been killed in Afghanistan, I immediately thought back to a winter day 20 years ago.
My daughter, Meaghan, and I had been invited to the town of Moriah sledding party by Brian Venne, Dain’s father, at the Moriah Country Club. Parents visited at the top of the hill as children flew down the slope.
That day, even at a tender age, it was obvious Dain Venne was special. He was fearless, constantly trying to go faster and faster in an attempt to make it to a small brook at the bottom of hill that parents were confident was out of reach. Also, he was kind, helping pull younger children back up the hill after each trip. And, he was fun.
Time-after-time Dain challenged his father and myself to a race down the hill. Finally, against better judgement, the old men — we’re much older today — could no longer tolerate the taunts. We raced.
With the snow packed down to almost ice thanks to hundreds of earlier trips, we flew down the hill — reaching the brook and crashing into it. While Brian and I tried to gather ourselves, Dain was declaring victory. He had won.
It turns out Dain almost always won. He grew into a top student and an outstanding athlete — he was an all-state linebacker and led the North Country in rushing as a tailback his senor year at Moriah. Coach Don Tesar called Dain the smartest and best linebacker he’s ever coached. He went to St. Lawrence University after graduating from Moriah Central School in 2001.
The world changed Sept. 11, 2001, for Dain and thousands of others. The 9-11 terrorist attacks called Dain to military service.
It was a decision that was hard on his parents, Brian and Laura, but they supported him — as they always did. That support came easier with the knowledge Dain truly believed he was doing his part of the make the world a better place.
Even when Dain came home to Port Henry, he did his part to help others. A member of the Port Henry Fire Department he was honored last year for heroism after he rescued several stranded victims during Tropical Storm Lee.
Dain served a tour of duty in Iraq, which only made him more determined to continue his service. At every step family and friends were proud, but nervous — knowing Dain would never back down from doing the right thing regardless of the consequences. Those same traits displayed while sledding as a child — fearlessness, kindness, humor — made Dain a role model for his community and soldiers under his leadership.
He was actually scheduled to be home on leave Nov. 3, but Dain decided to stay in Afghanistan rather than have his unit short-handed. That day Dain was killed along with Specialist Brett E. Gornewicz and Specialist Ryan P. Jayne by an improvised explosive device in Paktiya Province, Afghanistan.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the men were combat engineers protecting comrades by conducting “route-clearing” duties for a convoy when an IED blasted their vehicle.
Since the Afghan War began in 2001 2,146 American soldiers have died there, 282 this year. Every one has been a son, daughter, sister, brother, friend. Every one has been a hero.
Tributes are pouring in for Dain. The governor, elected leaders, community leaders, former teachers and coaches — everyone has something good to say about Dain. Those who knew him best speak in broken voices, wiping away tears. That’s the way it should be.
Those accolades will soon be gone, though, and family and friends will be left to deal with the grief and loss. Fortunately, Dain left an amazing legacy to comfort his family and community. Others talk about service, Dain lived it. While the pain of his loss may never fade, neither will the love and pride he generated.
May God bless Dain and his family.
Fred Herbst is Times of Ti editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org