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Mass. soldier killed in Afghanistan recalled as ‘great kid’

Army Specialist John M. Dawson.

Defense Department/AP

Army Specialist John M. Dawson.

A 22-year-old member of the US Army from Whitinsville was killed in Afghanistan when an Afghan soldier attacked his American allies earlier this week.

John M. Dawson, an Army specialist, died in Jalalabad from wounds suffered when he was hit by small arms fire while on an escort mission, the Defense Department said in a statement.

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The gunman was an Afghan National Army soldier who “turned traitor” on his American allies, said Army Sergeant Paul Reis, who was assigned as a liaison to the Dawson family after Dawson’s death. He said other soldiers were wounded in the attack.

Dawson’s cousin, James F. Baxendale, said Dawson was a proud soldier and “the kind of kid anyone would be proud to have as a son.”

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He said his cousin grew up next door to him in the village of Whitinsville, about 15 miles south of Worcester.

“You hear stories of casualties, and you feel bad, but when it happens to someone next door, one of your own, it’s devastating,” Baxendale, 67, said.

“We mourn his loss,” he said. “He was like a nephew to me. A great kid.”

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Dawson, a combat medic, was assigned to First Squadron, 33d Cavalry Regiment, Third Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, according to the Department of Defense. He trained for service at Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio; and Fort Campbell, Ky., the Defense Department said.

He is the first US servicemember killed as part of the advise-and-assist mission begun by the US military on Jan. 1 as the Afghan military takes over security of the country, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

A statement released by the American Resolute Support mission in Jalalabad said the Afghan soldier opened fire at the group of US soldiers at the provincial governor’s compound in eastern Afghanistan.

“We remain committed to assisting our Afghan partners in achieving sustainable security and stability,” Resolute Support said. “This attack will not weaken our resolve.”

Dawson, a lifelong resident of Whitinsville, graduated from Blackstone Valley Regional Technical High School in Upton and went on to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, Baxendale said.

He left school after a year and in 2012 enlisted in the Army.

“The Dawsons are a very close family,” Baxendale said.

‘You hear stories of casualties, and you feel bad, but when it happens to someone next door, one of your own, it’s devastating.’

James F. Baxendale, cousin of slain Army Specialist John M. Dawson of Whitinsville 
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“He had a good attitude about being an American and being in the military,” said his cousin, who last saw Dawson last summer. “He was proud to be an American, and he was proud to be in the military.

“He wanted to serve, and he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.”

Thomas Melia, vice chairman of the Northbridge Board of Selectmen, said word of Dawson’s death spread quickly in the Whitinsville section of Northbridge and beyond.

“It’s a tragedy for the family and for the whole town,” Melia said. “On behalf of the town, and the Board of Selectmen, our sincere condolences go out to the Dawson family. This touches us all very deeply.”

Melia said he planned to go to Town Hall on Friday to begin planning a tribute to Dawson.

Dawson leaves his parents, Rhonda and Michael, and a sister, Ashley.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.
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