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Mother of Fallen Warrior Shares Story At Santa Maria Memorial Day Ceremony

Debra Argel-Bastian of Lompoc recalls son's efforts to remind people about meaning of Memorial Day holiday

Debra Argel-Bastian, a Gold Star mother, speaks during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery on Monday morning. Her son Capt. Derek Argel-Bastian was killed in Iraq 11 years ago.
Debra Argel-Bastian, a Gold Star mother, speaks during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery on Monday morning. Her son Capt. Derek Argel-Bastian was killed in Iraq 11 years ago. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Pausing periodically due to emotions on the 11th anniversary of her son’s death in Iraq, Debra Argel-Bastian shared her son’s story of perseverance and patriotism during a ceremony Monday in Santa Maria.

“Each of us will carry home today our own Memorial (Day) traditions and thoughts,” the mother of Air Force Capt. Derek Argel said. 

“We’ll join friends and family this afternoon for barbecue, our traditional Memorial Day remembrance push-ups, and we’ll raise our glasses in a toast for all that gave all. By carrying this day in our hearts, by speaking their names, sharing their stories, we keep their memories alive,” she said.

More than 200 people gathered at the Santa Maria Cemetery for the Memorial Day service involving multiple veterans and service organizations. 

Small flags dotted the graves of veterans throughout the cemetery, while large flags once draped on caskets of former military members lined the area around Monday’s ceremony, according to Michael Stadnick Jr., commander of the Santa Maria Valley Veteran Honor Guard and master of ceremonies.

Other Memorial Day ceremonies in the North County were held at Solvang Park, Lompoc's Evergreen Cemetery, Orcutt's Pine Grove Cemetery, Guadalupe Cemetery and the Santa Maria Elks/Unocal Event Center.

Argel-Bastian’s son, a Cabrillo High School graduate who served in the special operations unit, died May 30, 2005, which also fell on Memorial Day. He was one of four Americans and an Iraqi killed in a classified mission.

The daughter of a World War II nurse, Argel-Bastian said Memorial Day was “imprinted on my soul from an early age,” with time set aside to attend services before family time. She carried that message to her children, with son Derek helping place flags on veterans’ graves as a boy.

Santa Maria resident Duane Clark sports patriotic clothing and an American Legion poppy on his hat during the Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery. Click to view larger
Santa Maria resident Duane Clark sports patriotic clothing and an American Legion poppy on his hat during the Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“During those years, he seemed to have no trouble in gently reminding people that Memorial Day was reserved to honor those who died in service to our nation,” she said. “He never faltered in his dedication to honor this day.” 

She recalled her fifth-grade son announcing plans to attend a military academy en route to becoming a special operations officer. 

“He never faltered from that plan,’ she said, reading an essay her son wrote as a fifth-grader about the flag and Memorial Day.

Yet, his route to become a military officer wasn’t smooth, as he struggled to raise his grades, attending two military preparation academies before being granted an appointment.

He went from academic probation in his first year to dean’s list by his junior year at the Air Force Academy.

“We had no way of knowing what the future would hold back then,” she said. “We had no way of knowing that May 30, 2001, would be a day of celebration, joy and accomplishment, watching him realize his dream of graduating the academy. 

“We never dreamed that exactly four years later, on May 30, 2005, would be the most tragic day of our lives.” 

He became a special tactics officer for combat control, a career field called “the quiet professionals,” said Argel-Bastian, a Lompoc resident. 

Debra Argel-Bastian, a Gold Star mother, is presented a certficiate by Michael Stadnick Jr. during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery on Monday morning. Click to view larger
Debra Argel-Bastian, a Gold Star mother, is presented a certficiate by Michael Stadnick Jr. during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Santa Maria Cemetery on Monday morning. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

She last spoke to her son on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2005, in a phone call, when he said, “Mom, I’ll be out of touch for a few days. I love you and I can’t wait to see you."

“I knew this meant not to call or to expect a call. This would be a mission and he loved the missions,” the Lompoc resident said. 

When she received a phone call on Memorial Day in 2005, she initially thought he had returned home early from Iraq. Instead, Derek’s wife delivered the grim news about a fatal crash involving a small Iraqi aircraft.

“When I recall that it’s been 11 years, I feel sometimes that it’s been 11 minutes,” she added. 

During an earlier speech, Chief Master Sgt. Jason Price, superintendent of the 30th Launch Group at Vandenberg Air Force Base, noted the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.

He urged those in attendance to look back with “reverence and gratitude” to the 382 military members killed in Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

“These brave men and women were part of the greatest build-up of American and coalition forces since the Vietnam War. They answered their nation’s call to arms and beat back tyranny with a 38-day air campaign, followed by a 100-hour ground invasion to liberate Kuwait.”

Over the years, Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of summer, Price said, noting that many people hold barbecues and other gatherings, celebrations made possible by those who lost their lives in defense of the nation.

“Honor them today, every day, making the most of the freedom they provided all of us,” Price said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

American flags decorate the Santa Maria Cemetery, site of a Memorial Day ceremony Monday. Click to view larger
American flags decorate the Santa Maria Cemetery, site of a Memorial Day ceremony Monday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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