For a brief moment on CNN on Monday, a U.S. soldier who served alongside a decorated Army pilot - one of the men killed in this month's Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan - spoke directly to that fallen pilot's 10-year-old son. (See how to give to the fund.)
"Braydon, buddy, from your extended Army family, we just want to let you know that we had the privilege of serving with your father," Army Capt. Jamie Schwandt said Monday on "CNN Newsroom." "We found out first-hand just how great of a person your father really was.
"He loved you so much," Schwandt continued, his voice breaking. "He talked about you all the time. You should be extremely proud of him."
Schwandt has set up a college trust fund for Braydon Nichols, the son of Bryan Nichols, a chief warrant officer who was piloting the Chinook helicopter when it was shot down by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's Wardak province on August 6. (Learn more about Nichols on CNN.com's Home and Away site, which chronicles those killed in the Afghan war.) The officer was among a team of elite SEALs and other American and Afghan personnel who died in the crash. The Chinook was shot down while on a mission to help Army Rangers who had come under attack in the area. (Learn more about the SEALs who died.)
Braydon, with the help of his mother, Jessica Nichols, of Kansas City, Missouri, posted an iReport just hours after learning that Bryan Nichols had died. She and her son were watching television news reports that showed photos of other men who died, and the boy asked his mother why there were no pictures of his father. Braydon wanted to change that, so he and his mother went to CNN.com to post the iReport, which included a picture of Bryan Nichols.
CNN.com published a story about that iReport.
The response from CNN's audience was immediate, massive and heartfelt. More than 54 pages of iReport tributes have poured in - more than 250 - to CNN.com. There have been dozens of notes to the boy on Bryan Nichols' Home and Away page. Some of those messages are from fathers who sent photos of them hugging their own young sons, writing that the story of Braydon's loss broke their hearts. Many readers wrote CNN.com to say that the story of the American boy losing his dad minimized their everyday personal problems. Others wrote to say that they had also lost a loved one during wartime.
Jessica Nichols told CNN.com that the child continues to read every message, and he understands that a lot of people are offering their support to him and other children whose parents have been touched in some way by the nearly 10-year war.