Jeremy Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America. He has written other stories about military families for the Missourian's From Readers section.
The loss of a loved one can be challenging under any circumstance, but when it involves a child, the the grief can be much more intense.
But for Jamestown resident Dale Deraps, such a loss has served as an inspiration to honor the memory of all servicemembers who have been killed in action.
A 2005 graduate of Jamestown High School, Deraps’ son, Leon, followed in the footsteps of his father when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2004, still a senior in high school.
In February 2006, shortly after completing his initial training, Leon was deployed to Iraq. Three months later, on May 6, 2006, he was killed in the Al Anbar Province while engaged in combat operations against enemy forces.
Losing a child his horrible in any situation,” his father, Dale Deraps, said. “As parents, we are not supposed to outlive our kids.”
No stranger to the military lifestyle, the elder Deraps enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1967, the very day he turned 18 years old, after deciding he was not ready to embark upon the college life.
He went on to complete his boot camp and training as an advanced radio technician and spent the next three years assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, Calif., working with military air control systems.
Leaving the service in 1970, he returned to St. Louis and was soon married to his fiancee, Sandy. He soon realized that he wanted to become a farmer and decided to purchase land and move to Jamestown.
Using his GI Bill benefits, he attended a farrier’s college in Oklahoma. However, during the winter months, the horse-shoeing business began to wane, so he learned to clean chimneys in order to make some extra money.
“I was the only chimney sweep running around with anvil on the side of my van,” he mirthfully recalled.
His part-time employment eventually became his primary career when, in the early 1980s, he became involved in chimney and relining and repair, eventually opening his own business, which he continues to operate.
In later years, Deraps was able to impart to his son some of his Marine Corps training while serving as the scoutmaster for Leon’s troop.
“In the Marines, you never take no for an answer; you either go over, under, around or through the problem,” Deraps said. “Many of the motivational basics we learned as Marines worked great in leading scouts.”
Teaching the scouts to become self-sufficient with a focus on public service helped inspire his son, and a total of seven of the 11 scouts, to eventually become Eagle Scouts.
But whether it was conversations with his “Uncle Joe,” who had also served as a Marine in Korea, the service of his father, or the groundswell of patriotism resutling from 9/11, Leon made his own decision to enlist.
Eventually giving his life in fulfillment of his dream of becoming a Marine, Leon’s sacrifice has encouraged his father to carry forth his story by recognizing the service of others.
A member of the Patriot Guard Riders, Deraps notes his attendance at events honoring others who have died in the military has placed him in contact with indiviuals of a similar patriotic bend.
But most recently, he has worked toward organizing an effort in Missouri to establish the “Honor and Remember Flag” as an official state symbol.
“The idea of the flag is to personalize the sacrifice of the individual,” Deraps said. “Their name is placed at the bottom of the flag and presented to the family by groups such as AMVETS or the Marine Corps League.”
In a resolution sponsored by Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, the flag recently became the state’s official emblem of those who have given their lives in the line of duty.
And though a simple token in honor of a profound sacrifice, Deraps said that the flag — one of which proudly flies above his Jamestown business — serves as a reminder of his son’s selfless desire to serve the country he so adored.
“It was certainly difficult losing a son, but this is a way for me to memorialize his sacifice … to memorialize all who have been killed in action.”
For more information on the Honor and Remember campaign, please visit www.honorandremember.org.