Ever since his doctor delivered the sad diagnosis in 2009, Brennan Daigle has not stopped fighting his embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer in which muscular tumors attach themselves to bone. But by Feb. 10, doctors declared they had done all they could. Brennan had just two weeks left to live.
Brennan's mother was devastated by the prospect of losing her only son, but Brennan's faith remained unshaken: “I know that with faith in God I’ll be OK,” he said. “I think God will lead me.” Comforted by the fact he would one day walk hand-in-hand with his deceased grandmother in Heaven, Brennan soldiered on.
As his mother planned a cancer society fundraising event, Brennan suggested a G.I. Joe theme. "The image of a strong and healthy man battling his enemies connected with Brennan, who was fighting his own battle," the Ft. Polk Guardian reports.
Brennan also loves all things Army.
To keep friends and family apprised of his condition, Brennan's mother created a Facebook page, aptly titled "Brennan's Brigade." Hundreds of strangers sent Brennan their well wishes, including a number of men and women serving in the United States armed forces inspired by Brennan's courage.
“Many of these Soldiers write things like, ‘we’re over here fighting for our country while you’re at home fighting for your life,’” his mom says.
“We even got a picture of Soldiers surrounding a HMMWV in Afghanistan, holding an American flag, who gave him the message ‘We’re flying this flag in honor of you; we’re here to back you. Stay Army strong.’”
On Saturday, Feb. 26, 9-year-old Brennan went with his father to what he thought would be a fun fishing trip. Instead, the young soldier was surprised to find more than 40 Fort Polk soldiers greet him -- all in full formation, standing at attention.
"Happy Birthday, Brennan!" a crowd of about 400 people exclaimed in unison.
“When he realized it was a surprise, and for him, he couldn’t say anything. All he could do was giggle. He was speechless,” his mother said.
A simpler party had been planned for Brennan, who had asked for an Army-themed birthday celebration.
“He was under the impression that there would be a little birthday party this coming weekend,” she said. “He had no idea about the castle, and we (her husband and daughter) had no idea that the Army would send Soldiers to fulfill Brennan’s wish,” — the wish to meet Soldiers before his illness worsens.
Brennan's wish came true with the help of Becky Prejean, executive director of "Dreams Come True of Louisiana." After hearing about Brennan's story through word of mouth, Prejean contacted his mother.
“Kristy said he had two days to two weeks to live and asked if we did parties. He wanted an Army-themed party, so I contacted Katey Husband, Fort Polk community member and mother of a ‘Dreams Come True’ child, who contacted Tresa Lawson, Fort Polk’s Community Relations Officer.”
Lawson asked for five to six Soldier volunteers; 40 answered the call.
“Words can never express what I felt seeing all those Soldiers there, knowing some of them had just come back from Iraq and still took time out for just one little boy,” Brennan's mom remembered. “Just to know that they care enough to give their all, to give their love and support to a little boy is phenomenal. It says so much about our men and women who serve our country in the armed forces.”
Not only did Brennan get to greet several of his personal heroes that day, but he was also taken on a HMMWV ride and inducted as an honorary member of the U.S. Army. Brennan was awarded for his courage with a coin symbolizing merit and achievement of excellence and several presents, including his own personalized dog tags inscribed with the seven Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
“Brennan, you exemplify what personal courage means,” Pfc. Kamesha Starkey of the 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade announced.
The emotional day even took a toll on battlefield-hardened men and women. “This event is a profound one. A lot of us just wanted to be there for him, show him we support him totally,” said Sgt. Joe M. Battle, 1st MEB public affairs. “But I can’t say it wasn’t hard emotionally.”
Pfc. Kyle Frederick added, “It was good to be able to give back. It opened my eyes to a lot of things: How I take my kids for granted, how lucky we are, how we complain on a day-to-day basis and we really have it good compared to others.”
After devouring a piece of his Army-themed birthday cake, Brennan accepted hugs from hundreds of strangers and opened dozens of presents they'd brough for him.
"Am I really in the Army?" Brennan later asked his mom.
“You most certainly are,” she said. “They don’t just swear in anyone!”
“That’s awesome,” he said.