Saluting her son's sacrifice
Leon Deraps died May 6, 2006, while serving in Iraq
JAMESTOWN, Mo. - Sandy Deraps has a sparkle in her eye and a loving smile on her face when she hears her son's name.
Monday, Mar 17, 2008
By Ra'Vae Edwards
It was nearly two years ago when the Deraps family learned their youngest member had made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Since then, the Deraps family has worked hard to keep his memory alive.
It was on May 6, 2006, at age 19, when Lance Cpl. Leon Deraps was killed while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Anbar Province in Iraq.
The devastating news of his death touched the lives of the people who knew Leon and even many people who didn't. Hundreds of people from all over attended his funeral and the outpouring of respect and honor for his family has led them down a positive path.
For Sandy, words cannot describe the devastation she felt when she was told of Leon's death. However, it is because of her devout faith in God and the respect for her son's sacrifice that she has made immeasurable strides to pay tribute to the troops who are fighting for their country.
“Looking back at first you are numb, then you just try to keep going because you have other children and you find yourself praying and keeping close to the Lord at the times you miss your child the most,” Sandy said.
Being raised in the small Moniteau County community of Jamestown, the Deraps family said the amount of support they received after Leon's death was amazing.
“Leon was very fortunate. Jamestown was there for us in every way,” Sandy said. “They took the time to come over to comfort our family and bring food; they called us often and prayed for us. I am always in awe when I think of all the kindness and love they showed for our family.”
In just shy of two years, Sandy has joined the Marine Parents, the Patriot Guard, established a scholarship in Leon's name, dedicated to cleaning a portion of the highway in his honor, attended 19 funerals of fallen soldiers from Missouri and still supports three of Leon's best friends who are in the Marines and five of his platoon members.
In the summer of 2006, just weeks after Leon was laid to rest, Sandy said she joined the Marine Parents group based in Columbia because of a video Leon had sent home. The organization packs and sends thousand of boxes of “goodies” to Marine soldiers in Iraq every year.
“We gave Leon a video camera that Christmas before he went to Iraq and we encouraged him to take pictures,” she said. “He took pictures of the Humvee he loved to drive, school children playing in a school yard. There were fields along the river, farmers in the field with cows. You think of the desert with just sand. That is not so.”
“One video I will never forget - and this is why I joined the Marine Parents - was he took his camera and placed it on top of a desk pointed at him and his buddy opening one of the boxes I sent him. He was so genuinely happy. The pure joy on his face that we remembered him and sent him treats from home - the cookies, playing cards and the letters. I will never forget that, it is my driving force.”
Sandy said her family will always miss Leon, but being able to honor him is one of the things that keeps her family together.
“We all hurt in our own way. We just miss him so, so much,” Sandy said. “We just pray together for other's needs at different family gatherings. Losing Leon has made us all more aware that by helping others and reaching out more gives us healing. Our faith in the Lord tells us we will be with him again and that keeps us together as a family.”
Whether she's packing “goodie” boxes, picking up trash along Highway 87 or baking cookies for Leon's friends, one thing remains certain - she is always thinking of her son and all of the men and women serving their country.
“Support the troops every chance you can,” she said. “Just say ‘Thank you for your service and God bless you.' It will mean so much to them, and to yourself.”
In Mid-Missouri: Since 1979
Family: Married, six children and nine grandchildren
Civic involvement: Member of the Patriot Guard and member of Marine Parents.