Family remembers Jason Dene, a Vermont soldier who died in Iraq

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(Host)   U.S. military officials say the noncombat death of Sergeant First Class Jason Dene is still under investigation.   

Dene, who spent much of his childhood in Rutland and Castleton, was the nephew of actress and outspoken war critic Mia Farrow and the grandson of 1930s film star Maureen O’Sullivan.  

Dene had three children and was just weeks from finishing his second tour in Iraq when he died May 25th.  

VPR’s Nina Keck has more.  

(Keck)  All the Defense Department will say is that Dene died in Baghdad from injuries suffered in a non combat related incident.   His father, Terry Deane, says he was told his son died in his sleep.   He says Jason suffered from severe sleep apnea – a common disorder in which a person has one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths during sleep.   Just a few months ago, Terry Deane says, his son flew back to the United States for surgery to correct the problem.

(Terry Deane) "But he right away was the first to say, `I want to go back.’   Nobody sent him back.     I talked to him on the phone once or twice a week from Iraq and he never, ever complained.  `How ya’ feeling?’   `Fine, I wish I had more to do.’"

(Keck)   Officials at the Defense Department say toxicology results from Dene’s autopsy should be finished within days.   Whether or not the autopsy report will be made public is up to the family.   Terry Deane says his son’s remains are still being held by the military, so funeral plans are on hold.   Talking from his home in Akron, Ohio, Deane says his son wanted to be a soldier ever since he was a child and spent nearly 20 years serving in places like Serbia, Bosnia, Haiti and Korea.  

(Terry Deane) "Jason would not have wanted to die like he did.  He would have wanted to die on top of that Humvee with the machine gun in his hands or jumping out of a plane.   And it’s ironic that he died lying in his bed, from what, we don’t know.   And that’s the truth, they don’t know what it is.  They’ve done autopsies and they can’t figure out what it is that killed him.”

(Keck)  Patrick Farrow, Jason’s uncle and a well-known sculptor who lives in Castleton, has been a vocal critic of the war and wants more answers.

(Patrick Farrow) "If there’s not going to be a private, outside-of-the-military investigation, I don’t trust a word out of their mouths.   They have lied to us all along, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t lie if they found out something that was embarrassing to them."  

(Keck)  Farrow says he contacted Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to look into the matter, but backed off when Jason’s parents asked him to stop.   Farrow says the entire war in Iraq has been overly sanitized by the administration and the media and he says too many non combatant deaths are swept under the rug.  He says he feels like he has to speak out not only for his nephew, but for all the other soldiers who’ve been hurt by the war.   Terry Deane says he understands Farrow’s anger, but doesn’t want his son to become a symbol for the anti war movement.

(Terry Deane) "I don’t want an investigation under the name of Jason Dene because he’s a high profile young man because of his aunt and his grandmother and everything else.  It’s jut not fair to Jason.   Jason wouldn’t want to be remembered like that. He would have wanted to be remembered as a warrior, a soldier.  And unfortunately he’s dead."

(Keck)  Tisa Farrow, Jason Dene’s mother, feels the military has been honest with her family.   But she admits it’s frustrating knowing that her son and the other soldiers in his unit had to stay in Iraq an extra three months because of a shortage of troops.   But for that, she says and pauses.   Still, she says, her son understood the risks.

(Tisa Farrow) "He had a deep deep love of his family and he was a really, really intelligent man.  And everything he did in the military- which he loved – he thought about very seriously.  So, for him to serve over there was something he felt noble about.   I didn’t agree with it.  But that’s the way – our family is, very political.   But I respected him a great deal for serving his country the way he did."

(Keck) Jason Dean had been scheduled to come home from Iraq to his wife Judith and three children later this month.  

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

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