RUMFORD — Christmas lights, frosted pine cones and a red bow adorned a wreath placed on a Congress Street lamppost around a shield bearing the name of U.S. Army Pvt. Buddy McLain.
It and others like it were made by former Selectman J. Arthur Boivin and placed this summer on lampposts lining the street to honor River Valley soldiers deployed to Afghanistan.
Boivin learned Tuesday that McLain, 24, of Peru was killed by enemy fire on Monday in Afghanistan, according to reports from Maine's top elected officials and Gov. John Baldacci.
Because the shield was modeled after Rumford firefighter and police shields, Boivin and area military officials will soon place a black band across the bottom half of the shield below McLain's name.
That's what police and firefighters do when one of their own is killed on duty, he said.
McLain was one of six U.S. troops killed in an attack by an Afghan border policeman during a training mission in Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border. The attacker was killed in the shootout, and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings, according to published reports.
McLain leaves behind his wife, Chelsea McLain, 20, and 15-month-old son, Owen, according to a story on WMTW TV's website Tuesday.
"He knew he was going to come home a hero; we just didn't want it to be this way," Chelsea McLain said.
McLain said her husband last spoke with them shortly before heading out on a mission he said was going to be dangerous.
"He called my son a couple weeks ago — our son — and he said how proud he was of him, and how he couldn't wait to come home and go sledding and build snowmen," she said.
In the same story, McLain's high school Principal Matthew Gilbert said the 2006 graduate of Mountain Valley High School met the goal listed in his high school yearbook profile, that of making something of himself and making his parents proud.
"That one hits home pretty hard," Gilbert said. "I think that he met that ambition. It was his goal to go make something of his life and make a good life for his family."
Chelsea McLain said life wasn't going to be the same without her husband.
"He was my high school sweetheart," she said. "It was hard being in the military and being apart so long, but I'm so thankful we have a son together. I can watch him grow up. It's so hard knowing that I'm going to grow old without him."
Rumford Town Manager Carlo Puiia said McLain's shield would likely be taken down at some point and presented to his parents or to his wife and young son.
“We're proud of our veterans and you'd like to think they will come home,” Puiia said. “It's a sad day for the family and the town. It's horrible.”
“Almost everyone in the country has a veteran from a former war or current," he said. "But when it hits home like this, it's shocking to your mind when you lose someone that young from your community.”
Townspeople and officials reacted with stunned disbelief and sorrow in mourning the loss of McLain, a cavalry scout with the Army's 2nd Squadron, 61st Cavalry, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
“It's god-awful sad,” Robert Acheson of Dixfield said Tuesday of the young man he'd met several months prior through friends. “He was one hell of a nice kid, immediately likable.”
“I am devastated,” said state Rep. Sheryl Briggs, D-Mexico. She met McLain a few times while working at the Mexico Town Office and through the young man's father, Larry McLain of Mexico.
“They're a good family,” Briggs said. “Larry has worked very hard and struggled to take care of and be there for his children.”
“It's an awful thing,” she said. Buddy “gave us the ultimate sacrifice and I'm just devastated. All we can do is be there for his family and support them in our prayers. It's just unbelievable.”
Briggs said the American Legion Auxiliary in Rumford and Mexico residents were taking news of Buddy's death “very hard.”
The auxiliary, she said, had just completed a shipment of Comforts From Home care packages for deployed servicemen and women; they had specifically mailed two to Buddy.
Peru Town Clerk Vera Parent said she was stunned by the news. Buddy and his wife, Chelsea, moved from Mexico to Peru, where his widow now lives with their young son, Owen.
“I'm in disbelief,” Parent said. “He was a nice, quiet young man. He got married and he was deployed right away.”
McLain's father-in-law, Andrew Freeman, said McClain was deployed to Afghanistan on Aug. 24, 2010 — the date of his son's first birthday.
McLain was the third Mainer killed there this month.
Only three weeks earlier, another Maine soldier from the 101st — Andrew Hutchins, 20, of New Portland — was killed by enemy small-arms fire while on tower duty, according to the Pentagon.
Another Mainer, Marine 1st Lt. James R. Zimmerman, whose parents live in Smyrna Mills, was killed Nov. 2 in Helmand province.
At least 15 soldiers from the 101st Airborne based in Fort Campbell, Ky., have died in Afghanistan since Hutchins was killed in the country's Khost Province.
As of Monday, 1,301 U.S. soldiers had died in Afghanistan, according to a Pentagon casualty report.
McLain's death has drawn condolences from Gov. Baldacci and Maine's congressional delegation.
“I am deeply saddened to hear that another Mainer has made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of us all," U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, said in a prepared statement.
"After speaking with Pvt. McLain’s family this morning, I once again extend my most heartfelt and sincere condolences to all his loved ones," Sen. Olympia Snowe said.
Baldacci will order flags in Maine flown at half-staff on the day of McLain’s funeral, which is reportedly scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 11, at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.
Rumford's American Legion Post 24, of which McLain was a member, will provide full military honors during a legion ceremony at his funeral, Commander Bryan Lucas said.
And, sometime between 5 and 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, the legion will conduct a Gold Star ceremony for McLain's family. Gold Stars are presented to families of service members who lose their lives.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information regarding McClain's deployment and leave times. This information has been removed and updated.