Community mourns death of guardsman, celebrates legacy

 

April 28, 2023

Photo courtesy 148th Fighter Wing

Members of the 148th Fighter Wing stand in formation during the burial service for Master Sgt. Noah Feehan at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Saginaw on Tuesday.

'God always takes the good ones first'

Hundreds of people packed the National Guard Armory in Cloquet Tuesday morning to pay their respects to a Cloquet dad, husband, father and coach who died earlier this month. Master Sgt. Noah Feehan, 39, died of glioblastoma, a brain cancer likely caused by exposure to toxins emitted by burn pits and jet fuel while serving in the Air National Guard as an avionics technician for 18 years.

Before the service started, the line of folks waiting to get in snaked across the front entrance and down Armory Road.

"What an incredible tribute to have all of you here today," said Chaplain Darrell Kyle of the 148th Fighter Wing.

The chaplain pointed to the evidence of Noah's impact, including the tableful of boys wearing Lumberjacks jerseys, military members in their dress uniforms, the family members seated at the front and the hundreds of people sitting and standing in the cavernous room, many of them also wearing sports jerseys.


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Kyle spoke about Noah's various families: his wife, Jenny, and sons Jack, Peyton and Logan; his sports family; his fellow airmen at the base in Duluth.

The Cloquet Class of 2002 graduate touched a lot of people.

"A good coach can change the game, but a great coach can change the player," Kyle said. "Noah changed a lot of players, whether on the field, at home, the wing, wherever. That impact is going to go on."


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Every table was filled, and people lined the three walls, listening quietly as Kyle spoke. Dressed in a camouflage Duluth Huskies shirt, Kyle said his favorite jerseys were of the Lumberjacks.

"Do you know why? Because that is the place where Noah had a dramatic impact," he said, quoting Sir Ken Robinson: "What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever."

As the chaplain revealed the two words he would use to describe Noah - magnanimous and caring - the sound of a jet flying overhead vibrated through the room.

Although the timing was sheer coincidence, it wasn't the only time a jet had flown over Cloquet in recent weeks.

His mother, Holly Feehan, said the F-16 flyovers in the days before his death on April 12 - when he was home in hospice care - were special to Noah. She said officials also flew a special flag over Minnesota and over the Twins' opening day and presented it to Jenny and the boys, flying over the house the day of the game.

"Two hours after his death on Wednesday [April 12], they flew one more time [over Cloquet]," Holly said.

As the sound of the jet faded away during the celebration of life Tuesday, Kyle encouraged the people gathered there to live life like Feehan did.

"Share your stories, share your time, share your skills, share yourselves," he said. "Because that's exactly what Noah spent 39 years doing."

The room remained quiet as the song "Beat You There" by Will Dempsey started with the words: "I don't know why God always takes the good ones first."

A prayer followed.

"Grief shared can be a comfort for all," Kyle told the crowd.

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Epilogue

Noah Feehan’s story reached a national audience when Public Health Watch and Military.com did a joint investigation in 2021. From that came an in-depth story in January 2022 which began with Feehan and highlighted the difficulty so many soldiers faced in getting the Veterans Administration to grant benefits to service members diagnosed with brain cancer during or after service.

In August 2022, President Biden signed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which recognizes toxic exposure as a “cost of war.” Veterans are now eligible for benefits for 23 burn pit or toxic-exposure-related conditions, including glioblastoma.

Photo courtesy 148th Fighter Wing

After the service in Cloquet, an honor guard airman from Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota performs military burial honors for Master Sgt. Noah Feehan at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Saginaw.

But the struggle isn’t over for Noah Feehan’s family. While his family will receive VA benefits because of the PACT Act, the National Guard Bureau has denied the service connection between his cancer and exposure to toxins. The Guard has so far refused to grant him early medical retirement, which he would have gotten for any other injury incurred while he was serving his country.

There is a fundraiser for the Feehan family. Search for “Help Master Sgt. Noah Feehan & His Family” at gofundme.com.

 
 

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