W-H alumnus killed in Afghanistan
By Stephanie Spyropoulos
WHITMAN — Flags are flying at half-staff in Whitman as the town mourns one of their own. Paratrooper Maj. Michael J. Donahue, 41, a native of Whitman and graduate of Whitman Hanson class of 1990, will be laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in the weeks to come.
Donahue was killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 16. He was in his third deployment.
Joanne Nickerson of Middleboro, his only sibling who is also a graduate of Whitman-Hanson, said she is struggling with the loss of her younger brother. The amount of support from the Whitman-Hanson community has been incredible, including many messages to her through social media. W-H sports teams wore black armbands in support of Maj. Donahue this week.
She joined their parents, who now reside in North Carolina, in a military ceremony Tuesday night referred to as a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base to bring her brother home.
Nickerson revealed fondest memories of her brother and referred to him as “everyone’s best friend.” He was not only a likeable guy but had an enormous heart and thought nothing of doing things for others, she said, recalling a gift of a handmade rug that he sent her after her family moved in to their new home.
“He went village to village with my color swatches to match the rug to my living room décor,” Nickerson said.
She recalled the details through laughter and tears how his rug quest was typical of her brother’s nature of doing for others; no matter how big or small the task.
Amy Driscoll-Balonis, a classmate of Donahue who reconnected with him on Facebook said she received messages of support from him when her son enlisted in the military.
“When my son went in to the Marines Mike would ask ‘how is he doing?’ It was the fact that he asked and offered support to me,” Driscoll-Balonis said. “Here he was in war, seeing all he did, serving his country and stopped to ask me about my son,” she said.
Donahue attended a family reunion in Massachusetts in August, at which many family members were able to see him and his entire family.
In a Facebook message to friends and family Donahue posted at 2:13 a.m., on Friday, Sept. 12 via Shahr-e Now, Afghanistan:
“I am leaving this country in 30 days or so. Thanks for everyone’s unwavering commitment with your thoughts, prayers, letters and packages; not only for the Troops and I but for the Afghans as well. Please stop all mail services no later than Sept 15th. I owe everyone a hug, high five, and a beer.”
Donahue was an operations support officer with C Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps.
“The Dragon Family has suffered a great loss today, and we would like to express our deepest condolences to the Donahue family,” said Lt. Col. Gabriel Barton, Donahue’s battalion commander, in a statement. “Maj. Michael Donahue was an exceptional officer and a huge part of our team and our family.”
Also killed during the same attack was Stephen Byus, 39, a member of the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime in Columbus, Ohio. Byus, a civilian, was working in Afghanistan as a supply specialist assigned to the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
Donahue, who had lived in Columbus, Ohio, enlisted in the Army in February 1996 and was commissioned through Officer Candidate School in April 2000. He arrived at Fort Bragg in July 2012, where he was assigned to the corps’ Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion.
Donahue’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Purple Heart, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, the Iraq Campaign Medal with one campaign star, the Korean Defense Service Medal, the Combat Action Badge and the Senior Parachutist Badge.
Donahue is survived by his wife, Sherri, and their children Victoria, Seamus and Bailey.
The Donahue family also lost a cousin in a1990 helicopter crash during Operation Desert Shield, the buildup toward the first Gulf war, known as Desert Storm. He was flying a night mission using night-vision goggles and was involved in a mid-air collision. His body was never recovered so he is remembered in the memorial section of Arlington National Cemetery — the reason Maj. Donahue will be interred in a different place in the cemetery.
A public burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery is scheduled for 11 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 30.
Nickerson is currently working with Massachusetts state representatives to organize a tribute for her brother. Details will be forthcoming when they are available.