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Observing the cost of freedom on Flag Day

'Every day is flag day' for families missing loved ones who served country

By STEVEN M. GRAZIER GateHouse Ohio Media Published: June 14, 2017 1:16 PM
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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Kessler was serving overseas when he learned he was going to be a father.

It was summertime about seven years ago and Kessler was in Afghanistan. His wife, Adrian, gave him the good news.

Kessler never had the chance to meet his only child.

The sergeant was killed in action before the birth of his daughter, Amelia, who's now 6 years old.

"It's tough but very special," said his father, Larry Kessler. "(Kevin) never got to see his daughter, but I see her every week. She reminds us very much of him. He always wanted a little girl."

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Sgt. Kessler, of Canton, was killed in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb on Aug. 30, 2010. The 1996 graduate of East Canton High School was serving in the 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.

Larry Kessler said his son, who died at 32, served two tours in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan. He loved his family, friends and country.

"He was the kind of person who everybody loved," his father said. "He was always in a good mood and brightened up the room."

Flag Day marks a time in which millions of people not only honor the U.S. flag but remember the lives of U.S. service members lost on the battlefield or during conflict.

The holiday has special meaning to Perry Township residents Kathy and Frank Patron, who lost their son, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Daniel "Danny" Patron, in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011.

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"Every day is flag day for us," said Kathy Patron. "We fly ours high and proud all the time."

In 1916, National Flag Day was proclaimed to be held on June 14 by President Woodrow Wilson, but the holiday was not officially written into law until 1949 by President Harry Truman.

Flag Day celebrates the adoption of the U.S. flag by resolution of the Second Continental Congress in 1777. The action officially replaced the British symbols of the Grand Union flag with a new design featuring 13 white stars in a circle on a field of blue and 13 red and white stripes -- one for each state.

'Did this really happen?'

Kathy Patron said not a day goes by without meaningful thought of her son. Although family and friends help fill gaps with love and support, the memory of him is embedded in her mind. Some days are better than others, but all have something missing.

"Every day, our lives journey through grief and pain that never goes away," she said. "You can't get used to something like that. It's left a big hole in our heart."

Sergeant Patron was 26 when he was killed while trying to defuse a roadside bomb in the Helmand province of Sangin, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Patron enlisted after graduating in 2003 from Perry High School, and was inspired to serve following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York.

Kathy Patron couldn't answer whether her opinion of America's military role has changed in the years since she lost her son. She only wants to believe that "Danny" didn't die in vain.

"He believed in what he was doing, and I have to believe (the mission) was right, too," she said.

Days of confusion come now and then, according to Kathy Patron, who said questions like, "Why did he have to die?," crop up and never seem to get a straight answer.

"There are still days where we ask, 'Did this really happen?' And we won't have the answer," she said. "The loss never leaves you."

Focusing time on faith, family, work as a Perry High School speech instructor and raising Daniel's dog, a 7-year-old Great Dane he called "Beefy," are positives that help combat the tough times, Kathy Patron said.

"The dog is an extension of (Daniel's) love, and we've found great joy in that," she said, adding that her last conversation with her son was about the pet.

A month later, the dog was ours," she added.

Being grandparents has been rewarding, and at times, a positive distraction, Kathy Patron said. The couple's second son, Matt Patron, Daniel's brother, has two children, one of whom is named Daniel James Patron II.

The toughest part about the loss of her son is "thinking about what life might have been" after his military service, Kathy Patron said.

After tours of duty in Iraq in 2005 and 2009, Patron voluntarily extended his service in 2011, lengthening his mission in Afghanistan. He would have been discharged from the Marines in June 2011 but decided to go on a third deployment, Kathy Patron said.

"I wonder what he would be now," she said. "I know he wanted to be a dad, but we'll never get to see."

Pain never dies

Larry Kessler recalled feeling angry after his son's death. He said Kevin Kessler strongly supported the War on Terror, and he did, too, and still believes that the U.S. should have a paramount role in protecting other nations around the globe.

"I believe we have a world responsibility to protect people who can't help themselves (against tyranny) and (to protect) us," he said. "If we don't fight terrorism globally, (someday) we'll be doing it in our backyard."

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the death of U.S. Army Cpl. Zachary Grass, who was a 2003 graduate of Fairless High School. The Sugar Creek Township resident was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on June 16, 2007.

His mother, Patti Grass, said the pain of losing her son is as tough today as it was the day she found out, and it never goes away.

"We miss him terribly, just him not being here," she said Tuesday while fighting back tears during a phone interview. "He had a great smile and was just an all-round good kid."

Patti Grass said she and her husband, Frank, routinely place fresh flowers at their son's grave, which is at Welty Cemetery outside of Navarre.

"We're out there on the 16th of every month," she said.

Reach Steven at 330-775-1134 or at steven.grazier@indeonline.com.

On Twitter: @sgrazierINDE


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