The last time Denise Aragon spoke with her son, the 22-year-old sergeant was tired and stressed and couldn't wait to come home on leave in July.
But a mother's intuition left her with an unsettled feeling, a restlessness she couldn't quite describe. Now, she says it all makes sense.
I was nervous because he was saying that they kept pushing his departure date back and that guys who were in line ahead of him weren't getting leave, said Aragon. But even after it got settled, I still had this feeling. Now I think it was intuition.
U.S. Army Sgt. John D. Aragon of the 101st Airborne Division was killed June 12 when the Humvee he was navigating through a secluded area northwest of Baghdad was hit with an improvised explosive device while on a routine patrol. Aragon was the only fatality.
Back home, news of the Antioch resident's death has left his close-knit family (father John, Sr. and sisters Christina and Brianna) reeling.
Standing before an impromptu collection of photos and remembrances above the family fireplace, a laminated schoolboy card thanking his mom for being sweet and kind peeks out from behind the beaming face of a 4-year-old in camouflage.
Smiling through her tears, Denise says she has surprised even herself with her willingness to talk about her son to virtual strangers.
You know, I used to see people on TV or in the papers talking about their loss and I would think I could never do that, she said. I used to think I would be lying in bed, drugged up and never be able to talk to people about something so personal.
But now I understand, because I need people to know how great he was and what a hero he was, and what a wonderful son he was.
Describing her son as passionate, loving, stubborn and sweet, Denise says John was fanatical about two things: the Raiders and the Army. Despite trying to steer him away from the latter, John eventually compromised, attending junior college for a year before enlisting in 2006.
The ambitious young man with a tattoo of the Raiders logo above his heart quickly made his mark in the Army, rising to the rank of sergeant in less than a year.
He was good at what he did and knew how to do his job, said Denise. He was the most patriotic kid I ever met and he loved what he did.
Josie Monahan, a Blue Star Mom, has been in touch with the Aragons and has lent a hand to the family this week with the necessary details and arrangements. Monahan says it is her honor and privilege to help.
I truly hope that this community comes out and comes together and doesn't forget the sacrifices that this family will live with for the rest of their lives, said Monahan. I hope that people will remember to live each day with gratitude and grace.
John will be buried on Monday with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute, and Denise said the family is grateful for the recognition their son will receive.
But for the grieving mom, who is coping with her loss as best she can through the support of family, friends and her faith, it's the little things like the smell of her son's cologne, or the way she used to affectionately rub his ears when she gave him a hug, or their late-night mother/son chats that she holds most dear.
We were just like two peas in a pod and always very close, she said. I know he is not in pain anymore and that he's OK. But he was my heart and my world, and I will miss him forever.
A public visitation and Vigil will be held on Sunday, June 22, at Higgins Funeral Home, 1310 A' Street in Antioch. The visitation is from noon to 4 p.m., with the Vigil to immediately follow. A Requiem Mass will be held on Monday, June 23, at 11 a.m. at Holy Rosary Catholic Church, 1313 A' Street, Antioch.
The Kiwanis Club of the Delta Foundation has set up a fund for the Aragon family. Donations should be made payable to The Delta Kiwanis Foundation and forwarded to 3377 Deer Valley Road, #239, Antioch, CA 94531.
There is an additional drop-off location at East County Insurance Agency, 2738B W. Tregallas Road in Antioch. Please mark donations to the attention of Emily Slatten or Frank Guarascio.
For additional information or questions, call Josie Monahan at 925-642-7537 or 925- 779-1340.
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