Bridge name will honor Belchertown son killed in Iraq

The bridge on  Route 9 on the town line between   Belchertown and Ware which will be dedicated to Kenneth J. Iwasinski who was killed in action in Iraq on October 14, 2007.

The bridge on Route 9 on the town line between Belchertown and Ware which will be dedicated to Kenneth J. Iwasinski who was killed in action in Iraq on October 14, 2007. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

The bridge on  Route 9 on the town line between   Belchertown and Ware which will be dedicated to Kenneth J. Iwasinski who was killed in action in Iraq on October 14, 2007.

The bridge on Route 9 on the town line between Belchertown and Ware which will be dedicated to Kenneth J. Iwasinski who was killed in action in Iraq on October 14, 2007. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

The bridge on  Route 9 on the town line between   Belchertown and Ware which will be dedicated to Kenneth J. Iwasinski who was killed in action in Iraq on October 14, 2007.

The bridge on Route 9 on the town line between Belchertown and Ware which will be dedicated to Kenneth J. Iwasinski who was killed in action in Iraq on October 14, 2007. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS—

Kenneth Iwasinski at nine years old holding his sister Amanda who was born the previous day.

Kenneth Iwasinski at nine years old holding his sister Amanda who was born the previous day. —CONTRIBUTED/Tracy Taylor

Kenneth Iwasinski poses with two of his friends and members of his Army unit. Iwasinski would man the gun at the top of the truck behind the three men.

Kenneth Iwasinski poses with two of his friends and members of his Army unit. Iwasinski would man the gun at the top of the truck behind the three men. —CONTRIBUTED/Tracy Taylor

Kenneth Iwasinski was killed in Baghad when his truck him an improvised explosive device, sending shrapnel into his legs and chest. He was subbing as the driver of the truck, who was too ill to go into the field that day.

Kenneth Iwasinski was killed in Baghad when his truck him an improvised explosive device, sending shrapnel into his legs and chest. He was subbing as the driver of the truck, who was too ill to go into the field that day. —CONTRIBUTED/Tracy Taylor

Kenneth Iwasinski with mother, Tracy Taylor, and his sister Amanda in a family photo. 

Kenneth Iwasinski with mother, Tracy Taylor, and his sister Amanda in a family photo.  CONTRIBUTED/Tracy Taylor

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 05-24-2024 4:57 PM

BELCHERTOWN — Without any money to spend on the latest 1990s entertainment, teenage Tracy Taylor amused her young son by rolling down grassy hills at the Quabbin Reservoir, giggling with big smiles once the two reunited at the bottom.

“I think we just kind of grew up together,” said Taylor, who had her son in Belchertown at 16. “We would spend the Sunday afternoon in the park on the swings. We would go for bike rides. We would do the things that just didn’t cost any money because we didn’t have the money.”

Decades later, those afternoons with her son at the Quabbin remain a special memory for Taylor, a memory that is about to come full circle.

On Sunday, Taylor will return to the Quabbin Reservoir for a bridge dedication ceremony in honor of her son Kenneth Iwasinski, an Army solider who was killed in action in Iraq on Oct. 14, 2007. He was 22 years old when the truck he was in hit an improvised explosive device, causing mortal injuries to his legs and chest.

The dedication honors the last soldier from Belchertown to be killed in action. Iwasinski, even 16 years after his death, continues to be remembered as a gentle and protective person whose big heart had room for everyone he met.

“After he was killed, I got a lot of information from people that served with him on how generous he was how he always wanted to help, how he wanted to be there to listen to do what he could to help his comrades out. And that was the way he was his whole life,” Taylor said.

“He was kind-hearted and a loving soul, and he is beyond missed.”

The bridge that will bear Iwasinski’s name is on Route 9 between Ware and Belchertown. He is buried in South Cemetery next to Taylor’s two siblings. Local Veterans Agent Charly Olivia, as a veteran who served in the Middle East herself, sees a piece of her story in Iwasinski’s.

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“For me, I served in Aghastaina, I was a kid when I served — I had just turned 20. That could have been me. It could have been my parents asking, how do we honor our kid?” she said.

Like many veteran stories Taylor has heard from other Gold Star mothers, Iwasinski was inspired to join the military at a young age. Taylor remembers Iwasinski as a child saying, “I want to be like dad,” referring to the picture of his father, Dominik Iwasinski, in his Army Reserves uniform on the wall during Iwasinski’s early childhood.

She said he idolized the “good guys,” like Steve Urkel from “Family Matters,” who always looked out for their friends and family.

“He was a protector. I have fond memories of a Halloween, which was his favorite holiday, dressing up to be like a baseball player and going out with his sister and I, and he walking behind us like with a baseball bat like, ‘I got you Mom, nobody’s coming to get you,’” Taylor said.

His younger sister Amanda looked up to Iwasinski, who was nine years older than her. He used to babysit for Amanda often. The two used to wrestle in the living room, breaking couches and lounge chairs that Taylor begrudgingly replaced over and over. In all his letters from Fort Benning in Georgia, Iwasinski always asked his mother about Amanda. He wanted to be involved in her life, she said.

Iwasinski attended Belchertown High School before dropping out at 17, but a few years later studied for his GED to join the military. He spent his 21st birthday at boot camp in Fort Benning, the same place his father had been trained years earlier. After graduating from training, Iwasinski was sent to Iraq for six months, serving as a gunner. He came home from his 22nd birthday in 2007 for a month before he got the word that his unit’s tour had been extended an additional six months.

Iwasinski’s father couldn’t be reached for comment, but quotes in Gazette article from 2007 report Kenneth and his father shared a close relationship. His son helped build Dominik’s home and garage, and the two men had matching tattoos of the American flag waving in the wind as a testament to their shared patriotism and military service.

While Dominik saw his son find his confidence and self-assurance during boot camp, he also gave insight into the way the brutality of war challenged his son’s gentle soul. Iwasinski once called his father crying about shooting an armed child in the war zone, broken up by the guilt.

Taylor said Iwasinski had a difficult time when seeing a child on the open battlefield, even when his colleagues convinced him it was probably a trap.

“You train these young men and women to fight and go and kill and it’s against everything that we’ve raised them to not to do. And then they all come home and they’re all on high-level alert,” Taylor said. “The first time he came home from Iraq, I’d already seen a difference in his face, in his eyes.”

Despite his trouble in school while growing up and his tough demeanor, Iwasinski wrote poetry as an emotional outlet. Six months after his death, Taylor found several poems her son had written hidden away in one of her books. One, titled “Mama’s Hands,” correlates the roughness of Taylor’s hands to all the hard work his mother put into raising her children:

“You see, my dearest Mama, yours are hands of love/And I bet the Lord will notice as he greets you from above.”

The bridge dedication service in honor of Iwasinski begins at 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Quabbin Visitors Center.