Saturday August 3, 2013

Editor's note: This story was first published on Jan. 7, 2004.

BRATTLEBORO -- During the early stages of the second war with Iraq, the Main Street Bridge was shut down and closed to all traffic.

The bridge reopened this fall, but by Memorial Day this year it may go through another change: it will be renamed the Kyle Charles Gilbert Memorial Bridge.

The Brattleboro Selectboard voted 5-0 Tuesday night to commemorate the bridge in the name of Pfc. Kyle Gilbert, 20, who died in Baghdad on Aug. 6, 2003, after his unit was ambushed.

Gilbert, a graduate of Brattleboro Union High School and the only child of Robert and Regina Gilbert of Guilford, has been Brattleboro's only casualty in the conflict. Six Vermonters have died in the war since it began in April 2003.

An account has been set up at Brattleboro Savings & Loan to collect donations to fund a plaque bearing Gilbert's name for the bridge. Organizers of the effort -- who sought town approval for the idea on Tuesday -- hope to have the plaque on the bridge by Memorial Day.

The effort started in a column in the Nov. 22-23 Weekend Reformer written by columnist Judith Gorman. Reformer publisher David Emmons volunteered the paper's assistance in the fund-raising effort soon after.

"There is a bridge nearing completion at the beginning of Main Street in the heart of Brattleboro, and it would be fitting to name that bridge in honor of Kyle Gilbert," wrote Gorman.


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"If even half of the residents of Brattleboro donated $1 each, then perhaps by Memorial Day 2004, we could dedicate that bridge to Kyle Gilbert, who gave his life for his country."

At least one donation of an unspecified amount has already come forward, according to a letter written by Emmons to the selectboard.

"I did not know Kyle," wrote Don Costa of West Yarmouth, Mass., in a letter to Gorman, "but read of his death in the Reformer and had a chance to visit his grave back in October, and was touched by the way the town of Brattleboro came out to bring him home and to honor his service to his country ... I would like to help with this memorial. It's a fitting tribute to a brave young man who gave his life so that others shall enjoy the freedoms that we all share."

Reformer Managing Editor Kathryn Casa told the selectboard on Tuesday that the cost of the plaque and dedication was not clear yet.

The proposal had support from all five members of the selectboard -- although some expressed a concern over the possible wording of the plaque.

Spoon Agave of Brattleboro said he did not want to sound insensitive but added that he had concerns over the dedication. What if other soldiers from Brattleboro die in the conflict, he asked, and what criteria have the town followed for dedications in the past?

"The war is still going on and the town may see more of our people hurt or killed," said Agave. "To me it almost diminishes the award by making it too soon."

Selectboard member Pat DeAngelo said she understood Agave's reservations, but added that Gilbert's death had had a profound effect on the town.

"He was our first young person to die in the war," she said. "Maybe it can be dedicated to him and all the others that served in the war."

Town Manager Jerry Remillard, who grew up in Brattleboro, said he had never seen a public outpouring of emotion as powerful as the silent procession that accompanied Gilbert's body through town on Aug. 12.

On that evening, thousands of people lined up along Canal Street and throughout the downtown to watch the processional make its way to the funeral home.

"This represents a truly symbolic gesture," said Remillard on Tuesday. "It's not a reflection of the greatness of a person ... it's just something that the town needs to recognize. We lost a very good young man and we need to memorialize that."

Daniel Barlow can be reached at dbarlow@reformer.com.