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Funeral held for Minnesotan killed in Iraq
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A family portrait of Pat Dorff, his wife, Jamie, and daughter Brisa. (Photo courtesy of Ed DuBois, Wright County Journal Press)
Funeral services were held on Thursday in Elk River for Patrick Dorff, an Army helicopter pilot who crashed in northern Iraq late last month and apparently drowned in the Tigris River. Dorff, who grew up in Buffalo, Minn., joined the Army to gain flying experience and to earn money for college. The 32 year old left behind a wife and a young daughter along with a long list of friends and admirers.

St. Paul, Minn. — Since Pat Dorff was deployed to Iraq last fall, his wife and daughter have been staying with his parents at their Elk River townhome.

Jamie Dorff says three-year-old Brisa doesn't really understand what's going on.

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Image A former employer

"She knows something's wrong. She'll come up to me... she'll see someone crying and she'll say, 'Mommie what's wrong with her?' Well, they're sad over what happened to Daddy. She says, 'Oh, Daddy's dead.' And then she'll turn around and say, 'Oh well Daddy's got a really bad boo-boo."

Jamie Dorff says, the day before the helicopter crash, she and Brisa saw and spoke with Pat for about 2-and-a-half hours. It was the first test of a Webcam Pat put together on base in northern Iraq and had Jamie hook up in Elk River.

"Brisa kept asking him, 'Daddy are you OK?' And he would be like, 'Yeah honey, I'm OK I miss you and I love you.' It was upbeat and, you know, it was good," she says.

If the Army knows exactly what happened to Dorff, it has so far not shared the information.

"He was a hero. He was out there to try to save someone's life," says Roger Dorff, who says all he knows is that on Sunday, January 25, his son, Chief Warrant Officer Pat Dorff, went out on a mission to rescue soldiers whose patrol boat had capsized in the Tigris River in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

"Then they hit a wire. The helicopter was equipped with wire-cutting devices. We understand there was also cable going across the river which would pull ferry boats across that particular part of the Tigris River. His body was found four-and-a-half days later and the other pilot to this date has not been found," he says.

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Image The family

Roger Dorff says his son joined the Army after he graduated from Buffalo High School in 1990 to earn money for college and to gain more flying experience. He got that experience. Not only was he flying helicopters, he was teaching the procedures as well. Dorff was formally commended numerous times for his work in the Army over more than 13 years.

Everyone who knew Pat Dorff knew he loved to fly. He started at the Buffalo airport when he was just 14 years old. He had his pilot's license before he had a driver's license.

"It's tough for me to see him as a solider. Some of the pictures when he went to Iraq, when he had his helmut on and a gun and all the gear strapped to him. I still see him as a little kid," says his brother. "We were bunkmates. We had a bedroom that was wallpapered in airplanes that we picked out together. He was my little brother."

Chris Dorff sits at his desk with a legal pad and pen. He's working on a eulogy for his brother. Chris says he and Pat shared weekly telephone conversations for years, no matter where the Army took his brother. Chris says those talks gave way to an on going e-mail dialogue when Pat deployed to Iraq.

Chris says he never even considered the possibly his brother would not make it home.

"He was very cautious. He always talked in his e-mails about how he was not ever going to leave the base unless he was in his helicopter and fully armed."

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Image "An unforgettable student."

Chris says his brother also was constantly trying to reassure his family that he was OK and taking every precaution to protect himself. Pat's e-mails were also peppered with information about day-to-day life in Iraq.

Buffalo High School English teacher Karen Swenson say Pat Dorff was an unforgettable student. Swenson says she's not surprised he died trying to save someone else.

"When I think of him I think of the hat and the great big smile. He was this vivacious, outgoing, positive kid," she says.

And a hard worker too.

Buffalo Aviation owner Susan Marsh hired Dorff when he was a high school student.

"I always remember him as that kid who had a smile on his face. He was kind of a fun kid, energetic. He was kind of a slight kid. And I wondered if he would be able to push airplanes around. He had no trouble at all and worked at hard as his job and he did as getting his license," she says.

In addition to flying, Dorff ran track and cross country and he played hockey. He also liked to hunt, water ski and care for a variety of pets over his 32 years.

His widow, Jamie, says if there's any relief, it's that the military found Pat's body and she still has three-year-old Brisa.

"He's shown us courage and bravery, at least to me anyways now that I have our daughter to take care of and he loved her very,very much and she was our miracle. And I know he's watching over her," she says.

Patrick Dorff is the fourth Minnesotan killed in action in Iraq.

The Patrick Dorff Memorial Fund has been established at TCF Bank.

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