The Whole Story... CPL Dustin Derga
Cpl Dustin A Derga, USMC
1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 25th Marines from Columbus OH
Born: August 18, 1980. Home: Pickerington, OH
Killed In Action May 8, 2005 in Ubaydi Iraq, near the Syrian border, during Operation Matador
Dustin's gave his life while conducting house to house searches with his fire team. Insurgents opened fire with machine guns from inside the house as Dustin's fire team was opening the door. Dustin was hit by an armor piercing round to the back that tore through the walls of the house. Three additional members of Dustin's fire team were wounded during the firefight. Members of the unit laid suppression fire as Dustin laid unconscious near the doorway. A wounded Marine carried him to safety and shortly after he was transported by helicopter to a field hospital. Dustin died in route. He was the first of 23 Marines and Navy Corpsmen killed in action during Lima Company's 7 month deployment.
Many view that as the story....the story the press often tells. The end of Dustin's life has so very little to do with his story. Dustin's story is everything that preceded that fateful moment in the Iraqi desert. It is also what has happened since. I want people to remember Dustin for who he was and how he lived his life. I also want them to know he is still impacting people today. When people see his name on a fallen HeroBracelet I want them to know the entire story, not the single chapter.
Where does one begin to tell the story about my hero, my son? He was a simple person but he had so many complex dimensions that defy definition. There will never be enough pictures, web pages, newspaper articles, or even words to capture his essence. I will try to share with you a little bit about him but I know my words will fall so short of capturing the Dustin we all love and so dearly miss .
Dustin was a special young man, unique in a very special way, but he was also made of the same American fabric common to many of our fallen heroes. He was all boy. He loved playing "army" with his GI Joes as a child while wearing his "cammies". Dustin also loved playing baseball and was an excellent pitcher and catcher. He was happiest when working with his hands especially when he was making something unique or fixing something broken. He was not afraid of trying the impossible and pushed the envelope of life every chance he got. He loved his mom, his sister, his girlfriend, his step-mom, and me. He loved helping people and doing what others couldn't or wouldn't do. He loved his country and willingly took an oath to defend it at all cost, including his life. Most of all Dustin loved life...every heartbeat!
Dustin always said as a youngster he was going to grow up to be either a soldier or a fireman. In 1999, weeks after Dustin's graduation from Pickerington High School, he headed off to the uncertainty of Parris Island, the place Marines are born. In the weeks that followed he faced the Crucible and earned his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. He earned the right of passage into the brotherhood of the Marine Corps. Dustin learned the importance of putting others ahead of self. He learned teamwork, commitment, and respect. Most important he learned that any dream is possible if you put your heart and soul into it and believe in your self. The transformation was complete. Dustin loved being a Marine. He was proud of being a Marine, part of a heritage that demands respect and honor. When I asked him why did he join, the answer was simple. "I want to be part of the best." .....nothing more, nothing less. Dustin had a simple way of saying it all with wisdom far beyond his young years .
Dustin was torn between joining the Marine Corps and pursuing his other passion of becoming a firefighter. He chose both by applying for the Marine Reserves and enrolling at Columbus State University to pursue a degree in fire science. While he was completing his studies, Dustin became a volunteer fire fighter at Basil Township. He was thrilled when he earned his fire card and was allowed to actually go into a burning building. Dustin wanted it all and wasn't going to compromise anything. At times he wasn't certain about where his life was taking him but when he would calm his head and follow his heart amazing things always followed.
Dustin had an uncanny ability to make you forget about your troubles and have you laughing over the craziest things when you least expected it. You could never stay mad at him. His contagious smile and dimple would melt your heart in seconds and soon you would completely forget what made you upset. I think Dustin used that to his advantage. His fellow Marines commented Dustin didn't take things too seriously except on missions. They said he had a gift of making the toughest times a little easier with his laughter and crazy antics. He dared to speak what was on everyone's mind even when it wasn't politically correct. Virtually every picture of him in Iraq showed him smiling even though he sorely missed home, cool spring breezes, and home cooked food. Dustin complained about the hardships but always made others forget about them through his gift of laughter.
Dustin lived life to the fullest. I know with certainty he is now with God, he is OK and I will see him again someday. The hardest part as a Gold Star parent is the waiting for that day, the someday. It is so hard starting each day without his voice, ending the day without his smile. Grief can consume you if you let it. I choose not to let that terrorist act also destroy me. I will not give them the satisfaction. I choose to follow Dustin's example and make the most of each day. I choose not to let Dustin's story end with that scene in Ubaydi. I tell his story, I share the lessons he has taught me, but most important I reach out in pain to comfort the pain of other Gold Star families and returning troops. In doing that my pain is always lessened.
My wife Marla uses her artistic abilities to draw tribute drawings of the fallen heroes from Lima 3/25. She provides prints of them to the Gold Star families and fellow Marines so we never forget these heroes and what they accomplished in life. Marla never thought her artistic abilities were good enough to do this. She now follows Dustin's lead, dreams the impossible, and puts her heart and soul into it. She also puts it in God's hands and follows her heart. Just like with Dustin, amazing things always follows.
We now stand in the gap for Dustin.....his story continues through us and the other lives he has touched. As you grow old and raise children you often think they will become your legacy. How ironic I have become the legacy of my son.
I proudly wear Dustin's dog tags that came back from Iraq. I also wear a HeroBracelet with Dustin's name. It hasn't been off my wrist since receiving it as a gift in the summer of 2005. When you see a HeroBracelet, regardless of the name engraved on it, realize there is more to the story than a name and date of death. Take the time and learn about the lives of our heroes. Don't focus on the ending. I promise you your life will be enriched by knowing the entire story.
Thank a vet for the freedoms we have, regardless of when they served. Pray for them, those currently serving, and our nation. Never forget the sacrifices but more importantly never forget the accomplishments.
Proud Father of Cpl Dustin Derga KIA 5/8/05