VALPARAISO, Ind. (AP) — Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary DeBoer was unable to join her husband and other family members recently in a seven-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the military death of her stepson and Valparaiso-native Daane DeBoer.
Rather, the judge arranged to have American flags posted on each of her neighbor’s mailboxes in memory of her son.
The move, she said, was not aimed at soliciting sympathy for her or her family. But rather to draw attention to and honor the memory of Daane, who died at the age of 24, just three months after being deployed to Afghanistan. The young man was killed by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol.
“He was a vibrant, very good young man, just hitting a prime age in his life,” DeBoer said.
Daane was born in Valparaiso and attended the local Immanuel Lutheran School through the sixth grade before moving near Grand Rapids, Michigan.
He was a real comedian, who had a love for extreme sports, which led him to spend several months hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail with a cousin as a fund-raiser for the Susan G. Komen For the Cure fund. He returned home from that trip with the announcement he intended to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, she said.
Daane was very drawn to the structured and demanding life of the challenging hike and was further fueled in his decision to join the military by the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on this country, DeBoer said.
While his decision to join the military at such a turbulent time and at an older age than others shocked her and the family, DeBoer said they rallied behind him in hopes of ensuring his success.
“You can’t do anything but support it,” she said. “But you’re scared to death.”
He joined the Marines in 2009, completing boot camp on June 16 of that year. He was deployed to Afghanistan the following March and died June 25, 2010.
While Daane was a “lean, mean machine,” DeBoer said, “you don’t compete with a bomb.”
DeBoer said the family tried in the year following Daane’s death to attend various military ceremonies, but those, in conjunction with his first birthday gone and holidays became too much to bear.
“You’re numb,” she said. “You move through the days.”
But two years ago, the family discovered they were able to take part in military and other commemorative events.
“It was completely different,” she said. “We were at a different point in our lives.”
Reflecting on the current unrest in the country, DeBoer said her son lost his life and her family made that sacrifice, in part, for freedom of speech that many simply take for granted. Her hope is that the right is exercised with greater care.
“I am such a proponent of doing it in a positive way,” she said.
DeBoer believes this is in keeping with the example set by her son.
“He was just this vibrant, fun, completely compassionate human being,” she said. “He’s just that guy always rooting for the underdog.”