Sunday, March 04, 2007

Army Staff Sgt. Darrel D. Kasson

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Darrel D. Kasson, 43, of Florence, Arizona.

SSgt. Kasson was assigned to the 259th Engineer Company, Arizona National Guard; died March 4 in Tikrit, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle at Bayji, Iraq.

Courage, faith remembered
By Carol Ann Alaimo
Arizona Daily Star

A fallen Tucson soldier, who turned down a job that would have kept him out of harm's way to stay on the front lines with his comrades, was honored as a hero in his hometown on Friday.

Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Darrel Kasson, killed in action in Iraq while working as a military police officer, was laid to rest at Evergreen Cemetery, fulfilling his wish to buried in the city in which he was born.

An estimated 300 mourners formed a sea of flags and uniforms as Kasson's coffin was escorted to his grave by six Guardsmen and a bagpiper from the Arizona Department of Corrections, where he worked in civilian life.

The 43-year-old father of three was eulogized as a courageous military leader, a fun-loving family man and a devout Christian who carried a Bible into combat and often prayed over the soldiers in the platoon he led.

Kasson died on March 4 when a homemade bomb went off near his vehicle. He is the 28th service member with Southern Arizona ties — and the 100th statewide — to be claimed by conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Darrel knew the value of serving, whether at home, at his church or for his country," said Dale Storm, pastor of Florence Baptist Church in Florence, where Kasson was a deacon and youth leader.

Born and raised in Tucson, Kasson graduated from Amphitheater High School in 1982. His wife, Lori Kasson, 42, said the couple met in their early teens at Skate Country, a local roller rink, and have been together ever since.

She was attracted to his charm and impish sense of humor, she said. Darrel Kasson was fond of practical jokes and loved making people laugh.

"He was a really outgoing person, like a class clown who never grew out of it," she said.

They wed in 1983, and a decade later moved to Florence, where Darrel Kasson worked as a corrections officer. But "we always thought of Tucson as home," she said.
Darrel Kasson had been overseas since November with the 259th Engineer Company, a Phoenix-based Guard unit with members assigned to convoy security duty.

Last month marked Kasson's 20th year of Guard service, making him eligible to retire. But when his unit got word last summer of the upcoming Iraq deployment, he was told he'd have to go overseas for a year before he could leave the military.
Kasson took the news in stride and did his best to keep spirits high among fellow Guard members as they prepared to go to war, said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Tatum, who spoke at the funeral on behalf of Kasson's unit.

Tatum said Kasson was offered an administrative position overseas, so he wouldn't have to be out on the road with fellow soldiers doing the dangerous work of convoy escorts.

"He refused. He wanted to be with his soldiers," Tatum said in an interview. "He said, 'I want to lead from the front,' " Tatum told the crowd. "He never wanted to show signs of fatigue or cowardice."

Lori Kasson said she and her husband became born-again Christians in 2000 and often prayed over the phone together while he was in Iraq.

"He wasn't afraid for himself. He was more scared for the guys he was in charge of," she said. "He was so worried about keeping them safe."

Storm, Kasson's pastor, said he never met anyone who didn't hold Kasson in high regard.

"Even the prisoners respected him. If he walked into the cell block and they were talking dirty, they'd stop." Storm said in an interview.

At a memorial service in Florence on Tuesday more than 500 people showed up to pay respects, including Guard members, corrections workers and Gov. Janet Napolitano.
Napolitano, who met with Kasson's unit just after he died, while she was visiting troops in Iraq, said the fallen soldier was an example of "a life well-lived," according to an account on the Corrections Department Web site.

Lori Kasson said she's grateful for the outpouring of prayers and support her family has received.

"I'm lonely and I miss him and it's going to be hard to live without him," she said. But she said she's comforted by her faith that she and her husband will meet again someday.

Darrel Kasson also is survived by his three children, ages 22, 19, and 15, and two grandchildren, ages 5 and 2.

And he leaves behind a unit of soldiers in Iraq who will never forget him, said Tatum, the command sergeant major.

"When we are on those long missions looking up at the sky, I guarantee that he will be looking down at us."

Army Staff Sgt. Darrel D. Kasson was killed in action on 03/04/07.

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