Air Force Capt. Derek Argel, 28, was larger-than-life--athletic, loving, dedicated, loyal and above all, a son to Debbie, husband to Wendy and father to Logan.
Within days of his tragic death in the line of duty on Memorial Day of 2005 in Iraq, the first letter to Logan arrived.
Then another came, and they kept coming, from friends, colleagues, warriors and family.
They still arrive, even years after the Combat Controller's death, each one weaving an enduring portrait for a little boy of his fallen father, gone too soon.
Proceeds from this book will go to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, rated as a four-star charity by Charity Navigator. The foundation provides full scholarship grants, educational and family counseling to the surviving children of special operations personnel who die in operational or training missions, and immediate financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personnel and their families.
The family of Capt. Derek Argel believes wholeheartedly in the mission of the foundation.
"First there, That Others may Live"
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Letters For LoganA Legacy in Letters of the Determination, Drive and Heart of Capt. Derek Argel
By Deb Argel-Bastian
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Deb Argel-Bastian
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDear Logan,
It has been said that when we are adults, we will be able to count our true friends on one hand. This was not the case with your father. In fact, I can't begin to count the people that he was proud to call his friends. He knew he could count on them, and they could count on him. He listened intently to people and to what they were saying. He cared when he listened. He took the time for his friends and family. He earned their respect, and they earned his. His word and his handshake were his contract, and to his friends a binding and understanding relationship. His departure from this earth to heaven had a step effect that I could never imagine. Some of the friends that wrote these letters, he trusted his life to. They trusted their lives to him.
It would be impossible to include all of the letters, notes and stories we received about him. There are hundreds. This book can only offer a short glimpse or a snapshot into his life and those he touched. In fact, when you read some of these you will understand that he is still touching our lives and has made a difference in the lives of so many.
These letters really began with two people. Your Dad's lifelong friend had already begun a web page on Memorial Day of 2005. People were able to share their thoughts and some letters on that page. At the memorial service in Florida, your uncle (Big John) had three envelopes containing letters. There was one for me, one for your mother and one for you.
If I could tell you just one special thing about your dad, it would be that he was wise beyond his years. If he was sick, he would not take anything for the pain. He said he should experience that pain and know what it was like. He didn't want to take even that moment from his life. He said he wanted to know both pain and joy and that would help make him who he was to become. I didn't know what that meant then, but I know now.
The greatest gift that your Dad's friends could have given are these stories. They of course belong to you. You will get all of them just as they were written when it is time. In this book, I have only used call names of your Dad's team mates, or first names only.
Because there are so many children that have lost their parents to the recent wars, we hope it will be helpful to other parents, children, friends, relatives. Hopefully, sharing the story of your Dad, will encourage others to write down memories of their own for other families who have lost a loved one. Your dad would want that if it would help in any way. He would be forever thankful to those that took the time to write them to you. I can only share with you how I felt and feel about the loss of my son here on the earth. I can't speak to, or compare anyone else's loss or the impact your Dad had on their lives. This is the beauty of those stories that are shared. These are the stories that bring joy and comfort to us.
In this book you will be able to see part of the journey of your Dad's struggles and achievements to attain his personal and military goals.
I hope in some way that sharing these memories brings the joy of his life to many, the strength of your mother to all, and the comfort of knowing that your Dad loved you and all that he called friends.
Thank you for sharing your stories Logan. Love, Oma May 30, 2012
It was a beautiful morning. It so happened that the "holiday" of Memorial Day this year just happened to fall on the real Memorial Day. The date was and always will be to our family, the real day. It was also the actual Memorial Day, May 30 that Derek graduated in 2001 from the Air Force Academy. Congress changed the observance day to allow for a three day holiday, a long weekend for people to enjoy picnics, beach trips and other activities. The meaning of the day had become overshadowed over the years. Derek always wanted to attend the services at the Lompoc cemetery and help do his part by putting the flags out. He said, "It was the right thing to do."
We didn't attend the services that morning. In Santa Barbara your grandfather Todd's family was having a breakfast get together, followed by a trip to the Santa Barbara Mission for the Italian Chalk Festival. I charged my phone the night before, hoping I might hear from Derek as it was Memorial Day. He had emailed me a few days before just to say he would be out of touch for some time. At the festival, I stood in awe for some time looking at a beautifully detailed American flag and complimented the artist. For some reason, my eyes began to blur and tear up. I thought of Derek and so many that were away today and so far from home and away from these colors they loved and fought for. I asked Todd if we could leave and go visit his dad. Todd and his dad Hobart, routinely enjoyed cigars and martinis by the pool, and our conversations there were lively, covering all topics. It was peaceful and happy as usual. One hour later, our lives would change forever.
In Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, your mother was out doing a few errands. She had just finished typing an email to your Dad. At the top she wrote, "Memorial Day." Your grandmother Jane was at the house with you, when The Air Force personnel came to the door. Jane called your mother and asked her to come back home right away. Because your grandfather Mike was a retired Air Force Colonel, they both knew in their hearts this was not a social call.
Sitting at the pool in Santa Barbara, I had chosen the chair nearest the back door at the patio. For some reason, to this day I always choose that chair. My cell phone rang. Sarcastically, I answered, "Happy Memorial Day." It was in bad taste and I knew it. I wanted to withdraw the words as soon as I said them. Derek and I always found the "Happy Memorial Day" signs at local businesses in very poor taste. It was a further reminder that people had forgotten the meaning of that day. I heard your mother's voice on the other end. I was surprised and thought she might be calling to tell me Derek was on the way home or already there. Her voice was steady on the other end. I will never forget the conversation. As Todd and Hobart were engaged in conversation, I put my finger over my free ear to clearly listen to her voice.
"Are you ready for this?", she asked. "Derek's plane has gone down in Iraq." She said she didn't know much more than that they had the site surrounded, and they were looking for someone else. She said they were waiting for confirmation, and she would call me back in about 30 minutes. She told me there were five aboard a small Iraqi plane. In my confusion, I told her that didn't make any sense. What was Derek doing in Iraq? Why was he on an Iraqi plane? Who had the site surrounded?
I hung up the phone and waited for what seemed like an eternity for the call back. I explained to Hobart and Todd what had happened. I asked for another martini while I waited, and even though I was wearing a patch to quit smoking, I asked for cigarettes. Both men tried their best to keep me calm. They said Derek was trained for these things, that he must have jumped or something. My worst thoughts were whispered out loud, "They are not looking for anyone living, these guys don't leave each other."
The phone rang again and your mother said in a soft voice, "It is confirmed." I replied "NO, Wendy." As I tried to get up, I collapsed. Todd caught me and I went into the house to sit down. I remember repeating those words to your mother maybe 20 times. I went back outside to my seat by the pool. I remember Todd telling me that I didn't look well. He told me to move into the shade, that I had too much sun. I didn't feel the sun. The sun was down for me. I would not see daylight again for a very long time.
Suddenly Todd's stepmother Anke was home. She was holding me. Hobart must have called her. She is a caregiver and consoled all of us. I remember saying that we needed to get the earliest flight in the morning to be with Wendy and Logan in Florida. We would need to take my mother. I didn't want her to be at home to answer the door and the endless calls from reporters that would come when the Department of Defense released the information. Anke made all of the arrangements. I managed to make three calls. The first was to my friend Sherry. She was watching a baseball game at a friend's house. I'm sure I didn't make any sense when I asked her to take care of our cat McDuff for the next few days. It seemed she needed no further explanation as I later learned that she saw a ticker come across the screen during the game. It announced that some Air Force Commandos plane had gone down in Iraq. She and her husband Randy were on their way.
The next calls were to my work and to your Aunt Joelle. I told her I could not take care of your cousin, little Derek for the next week. Anke drove Todd and I to tell Uncle Johnny the news. He did not break down in front of me. None of us chose to believe that this was really happening. On the way back to Lompoc, I called the home of Derek's high school water polo coach Bob Lawrence. He was not home, but I explained to his wife Diane that I did not want them to hear it first from the news. I asked them to call everyone as I would be on my way to Florida in the morning. My mother didn't answer the phone. She was still at a barbecue in Ventura. We stopped and left a note on my sister's door to come to my house immediately when they returned and to bring my mother. With them seated on my couch, I had to deliver the news that I didn't want to believe myself. Todd must have made some calls himself, as our friends began to arrive that night. He lit a bonfire in the fire-pit in front of our house and asked that it not go out. The fire-pit was a trademark of our home and the center of so many happy occasions and parties. Your parents, friends and family gathered around it for their wedding rehearsal dinner, and your father burned the last Yule log in it on what would be his last Christmas here on earth.
Sherry, Randy and our friends Joe and Sally had the keys to the house. They agreed to take care of things for us while we were gone for a week. I took a look around the house alone before I packed. The life-size Blues Brothers statues that Derek loved stood their quiet vigil in the dining room as they had in happy times. I went to the back room to touch the buttons on the pinball machine that he set the record on. Desperately, I wanted to go back in time. I wanted to be anyone but me. I wanted to get to Florida to hold you and tell you that things would be all right someday. I wanted to be with you and your mother, part of Derek.
I stared at the fire and the stars that night. I looked to the sky and asked, "Where are you Derek?" We always talked about the stars. As a little boy, he would often ask me if the stars looked the same from everywhere in the world. I told him that I didn't know, but we would find out someday together.
After sobbing into my pillow and praying for some answers, I fell asleep at about 3 a.m. I had a dream. It was March 11, 1977. I was in the delivery room. After a long labor, they laid Derek on my chest. He was a chubby beautiful baby boy. I was laughing that his cry and cooing seemed so deep. I smiled up at the nurse and said, "He is so healthy, and I am so blessed." I closed my eyes and held him close to me. Johnny would have the baby brother he wished for. I knew it would be a boy. Suddenly, the nurse was waking me up to tell me that they had to take him from me to give him a bath and that I would have him back soon. I woke from this dream to my mother's voice gently telling me it was time to go to the airport.
My mother and Todd provided the strength for me to get on the plane in Santa Barbara. I didn't want to board. Somehow, if I didn't get on the plane the nightmare would not be real. I had to be helped, almost carried on board. The flight attendant sat me up front across from her. She held my hand, got tissues and drinks for me. I'll never forget her kindness. In Los Angeles, someone had determined we would miss our flight. They took us off the plane first and down a ramp into a van. We drove at a very high speed across the tarmac and were led on a plane bound for Florida.
Coming down the escalator at the Ft. Walton Beach airport, your grandmother Jane stood alone to meet us. She was strong and kind, but her face was wrenched with pain for all of our loss. Your grandfather Mike was on his way home. As a Delta pilot, he was on one of his work schedules that called him out for several days at a time. He was scheduled to fly when he got the news. They cancelled his flight schedule and got him on the quickest flights home.
I don't know why I thought the house would be quiet when we arrived. I thought we would have some time alone with you and your mother. The house was full of friends, Derek's Air Force brothers and people bringing an endless supply of food. Derek's team was still deployed, but some of the wives and their children were there. Cell phones were ringing all the time and the situation seemed like chaos to me. My phone began to ring constantly and I asked that someone else answer it. I had lots of questions and I needed answers. Valerie Chapman was there. She lost her husband, John "Chappy" Chapman, a Combat Controller, in March of 2002 at the battle of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan. She was there for us as were so many. It soon came to me that each and every person in the room and those calling, had suffered the loss too. We were all gathered together to make some sense of the unthinkable situation.
A long table was set up in the backyard that night. I didn't want to eat, but someone brought me a plate. Your high chair was next to me. My first laugh of the evening was that your mother caught me feeding you all of my mashed potatoes. You loved them, but she wasn't happy with me. I took a glass of wine to the front yard and sat on the tailgate of your dad's truck alone. I looked up at the stars and said out loud, "Where are you Derek?" A calming voice came out of the darkness and said, "He is with me now." I looked around for the source of the voice, but I was physically alone. At that moment, I knew a new journey was beginning for me. I would have to learn to walk again, but I was not alone.
On June 3rd, when the house quieted down a little, your mother suggested we send something to Derek's teammate and friend Ramses via email. We wanted him to read the notes to the others to let them know we were thinking about them as they were still deployed. Your mother went into her walk in closet to write down some of her thoughts in quiet. For a long time, she sat amongst Derek's clothing and penned a comforting letter that told Derek's brothers we were thinking of them and that he would want them to press on.
To the guys,
Wow, where do I start. I never thought I would be writing a letter like this one. I feel like I have so much to say but it is hard to find the words to fit what my heart is telling me. As I am writing this I am sitting in mine and Derek's closet amongst his shoes (yes, it's hard to find room with all of his big shoes around!), his clothes, and everything that reminds me of him. I have by me a pile of emails from Derek, a picture of him, and the Bronze Star that was awarded to him.
The memorial was today and it was truly remarkable. You should have seen the support that was there. As we were being driven from the squadron to the hanger, there was a sea of red Berets, your fellow comrades. It was an amazing site to see and I know you would have been proud, I sure was. Of course I know that none of you could be there physically but your hearts were there sitting with me, the other families, and your fellow soldiers.
Well, I wanted to write to you and let you know from my point of view what you, as my husband's comrades, meant to him. It is only through his strength that I can write this letter and he is probably looking over my shoulder right now making sure I spell correctly (so if I misspell something you can take it up with him!) Being Derek's wife I have had many conversations with him about all of you and his career field. It is important for me to let you know the love he shared for each one of you and for his country.
My husband loved being a combat controller more than anything. I'm sure most of you knew the frustrations that he had when it came to wanting to operate. He expressed to me how he wanted to be able to contribute the way that he felt God intended him to. It was his drive, it was what he was all about. He wanted to be right beside each of you and he wanted to be in the fight. He would have died for any of you and this is something he explained to me before, even though he knew it was hard for me to hear. For the past while, as some of you know, Derek was struggling with a decision-stay in or get out.
Excerpted from Letters For Logan by Deb Argel-Bastian Copyright © 2012 by Deb Argel-Bastian. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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