Thursday, August 31, 2006

Army Staff Sgt. Michael L. Deason

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Michael L. Deason, 28, of Farmington, Mo.

SSgt. Deason was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.; died Aug 31 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations in Ad War, Iraq.

Childhood friend to lead service for soldier
A day Brad Dush never thought would come
By DONNA HICKMAN\Daily Journal Staff Writer

It seemed an odd question for two friends on their way to the movies. Last December, Mike Deason asked Brad Dush to perform his funeral.

“He said, ‘If anything happens to me in Iraq, would you do my funeral?'” Dush recalled Tuesday. “We hadn't been talking about it or anything. It just came out of nowhere. I told him I'd be honored, but there was no reason to think about that now. I never thought that day would come.”

But now, the 26-year-old Dush, a Methodist minister, is preparing the funeral service for Deason, an Army staff sergeant killed last week in Iraq. Deason grew up in Desloge. Dush grew up near Park Hills. They are lifelong friends who last saw each other during that holiday trip to the movies.

Deason was killed in Iraq last Thursday as he rode in a convoy. His Humvee was struck by an armor-piercing grenade. He was one week shy of coming home.

Deason was a year older than Dush, two years ahead of him in school. The two became "cousins" when Michael's dad married Brad's aunt. Over the years, they became fast friends and Dush can't remember a time when Michael wasn't part of his life.

“We traded baseball cards and I remember he was always wanting any Cal Ripken, Jr. I had,” said Dush. “We played sports - especially basketball - and some baseball - and we were both competitive. We listened to a lot of music over the years. Whenever my mom and dad went out of town, I was over at their house in Desloge,”

Sometimes, the two boys took Deason's King James Bible out of the night stand where he kept it and read through the book of Revelation.

"We were trying to figure it out," said Dush, with a chuckle. "Like two 11 and 12-year-old boys could figure out that stuff!"

In 1999, Dush decided to go into the ministry. A year later, Deason enlisted in the Army. Dush recalls how they talked years later about how they'd each found their niche in life. Secure in their careers, married with children, they were content. While they hadn't spent as much time together over the last few years, they did celebrate Christmas together last year. On Christmas Eve, they got together at Brad's house for a "Double D Christmas."

"It was the Deasons and the Dushes together," said Brad. “They came to my church and I gave communion to him. I said a prayer for him in Iraq. I don't remember what I said, but I remember everybody was crying."

It was after that visit, Michael asked his friend about his funeral. It's a request Brad never told anyone about, but Michael's family must have known he would want his cousin to lead the service.

"I've been sitting here thinking about all our times together," said Dush Tuesday. "He had a crazy, loud laugh. His whole body shook when he laughed. I'll always remember that. He loved his kids. You never want to think about this young father dying. You never think it would happen to someone you know."

Brad says the Army made changes in Michael. Stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky., he was a member of the 101st Airborne Division and the elite Army Rangers. Dush says he was confident about his job as a soldier, though he didn't enjoy being in Iraq.

"He was a soldier and he was doing his job," said Dush. "And he was good at it."

Dush said he'd hoped to help Michael's family move back to Ft. Campbell when he came home. He had hoped to restore the close relationship they'd had in the past.

The funeral for Michael Deason has been moved back to 1 p.m. Saturday at Farmington First Assembly of God Church, with Rev. Hugh Cerutti assisting Dush in leading the service. The time is still tentative as changes in the Army's timetable for returning Deason to the Parkland could result in changes in the times. Deason will be buried with full military honors at the Big River Cemetery in Irondale. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The Jayden and Kayler Deason Trust Fund for Michael's two children.

‘He fought for me and I appreciate it'
County residents line procession route honoring SSG Deason
By PAULA BARR\Daily Journal Staff Writer

It seemed as though every flag in St. Francois County was waving good-bye to Staff Sgt. Michael Deason Sunday as his funeral procession made its way from the Farmington First Assembly of God Church in Farmington to Big River Cemetery in Irondale.

Hundreds of supporters lined Route D and Karsch Boulevard in Farmington, Desloge Drive in Desloge, Highway 8 in Park Hills and Route M in Leadwood. As bikers from Patriot Guard Riders led the motorcycle-driven hearse into Washington County and into Big River Cemetery Road, additional groups of residents gathered in front of their homes to raise signs and flags, and wave their thanks.

“We're just showing our support for a fallen comrade,” said Carter Kohlenhoefer of Farmington, an Army veteran who waited along Karsch Boulevard to show respect. “He gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

Mourners arriving at the church drove between lines of flag-bearing members of the Patriot Guard Riders. The organization is comprised of motorcycle riders from all over the country who offer their services to families of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq. Ride captains list an upcoming need on the Internet, and all those who are able to help show up for the ceremonies.

Sunday's Ride Captain Randy Dunn of Cape Girardeau said the group can escort bodies home from the airport, protect families from protesters and escort the funeral procession. The group escorted Deason home from Lambert International Airport Friday night as well as to the cemetery. There were no protesters at Deason's services.

Dunn said he can't recall a family declining their offer to help, but the group's services are not always the same.

“Each family is different,” Dunn said. Some families want something quieter than this. We are not here unless the family wants us, however.”

Members at Deason's funeral included Vietnam veterans, Christian Bikers and American Legion Riders. Approximately 150 bikers, many wearing leathers and red, white and blue bandanas showed up Sunday from several states. Among them were Wendi and Brandon Jones of St. Louis, who joined the Patriot Guard Riders in April. They drive the support goods for the motorcycle riders - coolers, beverages, medical supplies and other items.

Brandon Jones said they joined to show respect for fallen soldiers. Wendi Jones said her reason was closer to home.

“I have a daughter in the Marines,” she explained. “If anything - God forbid - happened to her, I would want the PGA to be there for support.”

Joining the Patriot Guard Riders outside the church were neighbors, including Charlie Berry of Desloge and Lisa Brenneke of Bonne Terre. Berry said he went to North County with Deason and came to the funeral to support the family.

Brenneke said her son and Deason were friends.

“He was always a lot of fun,” she said of Deason, who became a Staff Sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division and a member of the elite Army Rangers. “He was always trying to make people laugh.”

Several “flag bikes” rode in front of the hearse. The remaining motorcycles rode behind the hearse or behind the family. They headed down Route D to the intersection and Karsch Boulevard, where a large crowd was waiting.

Misty Halter and Tiffany McCarron took their lunch break from Harris Manor so they could join the supports on the funeral route.

“I went to school with him,” Halter said. “He was a good kid who died for his country.”

Twelve-year-olds Briana Fisher and Jessica Russ of Park Hills joined Dylan Wright, 12, of St. Louis, on the curb of Karsch Boulevard. Dylan was in town visiting his grandmother, Alma Burnside of Farmington. The three youths waved flags in support of Deason and his family.

Near them, approximately 50 members of the American Legion Post stood waiting for their fallen comrade. The Boy Scouts of Troop 999 handed out flags that the American Legion had provided for holiday display so that every one along the route would be able to wave a flag as the procession drove by.

Another crowd waited at Desloge Drive and U.S. 67, where fire trucks from De Soto and Farmington had erected a large flag over the funeral route. Law enforcement officers, ambulance personnel and firefighters from departments throughout St. Francois County, gathered along the intersection to wait for the procession. As the hearse appeared at the end of the exit ramp, Desloge Fire Chief Larry Gremminger gave the command to come to attention.

Further up the hill, the Harvell family of Desloge gathered in patriotic garb to waive flags at the funeral procession.

“We want to show our patriotism,” said Janna Harvell-Williford.

Other onlookers included members of the 220th Engineer Company from Festus and the 735th Quartermaster in De Soto.

“We're here to represent the 220th and give Sgt. Deason respect,” said Sgt. John Pace.

Several Wal-Mart employees scheduled their lunch and breaks so they could wait for the procession. They stood by Dean Gamblin and Karen Macklay, who held a Native American flag. The flag combined the U.S. stars and stripes with the depiction of a dream catcher and an eagle. Gamblin said the eagle soaring to catch the dream catcher symbolizes bringing someone home.

Gamblin summed up the feeling of many onlookers that explains why they turned out to say good-bye to a man many of them never knew.

“He fought for me,” Gamblin said. “And I appreciate it.”

Army Staff Sgt. Michael L. Deason was killed in action on 8/31/06.

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