Using $2 veto pen a priceless act for father of fallen Marine
President Bush on May 1 used a regular black-ink, felt-tip pen — not his usual personalized Cross-brand pen — when he vetoed a timeline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The pen was a gift from Robert Derga, the father of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq. Mr. Derga of Uniontown, Ohio, gave Mr. Bush the pen after a speech by the president last month at the White House and had asked him to use it when he vetoed the timeline.
Mr. Bush had invited a number of “Gold Star Families” — those who have lost a U.S. military member in Iraq — to the speech April 16 and met with them afterward in the Oval Office.
Mr. Derga, 53, said the pen was the one he used to write letters to his son, Marine Cpl. Dustin A. Derga.
“It was just a common run of the mill [. . . ] I don’t even remember the brand name,” Mr. Derga said. “It was just a $2 pen. Nothing special.”
Mr. Bush met with the Dergas and other families for about 45 minutes and
spoke directly with each family.
“I looked the president square in the eye,” Mr. Derga said. “I looked at him and said, ‘Mr. President, if this Iraq supplemental comes down to a veto, I want you to use my pen to do it.’ ”
Mr. Bush “kind of looked at me funny for a moment and then said, ‘Absolutely,’ and then handed the pen to his assistant,” he said.
“He assured me he would use it,” Mr. Derga said.
Cpl. Derga was killed in Iraq on May 8, 2005, while leading houseto-house searches in Ubaydi, Iraq. He was 24.
He was the first Marine killed from Lima Company, with the Marine Force Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, based in Columbus, Ohio.
On May 1, Mr. Derga was shutting off his computer at work about 5:30 p.m. when he received a call from Jared Weinstein, Mr. Bush’s personal aide.
Mr. Weinstein was calling “to tell me that the president had signed the veto with my pen,” Mr. Derga said.
“They wanted to again give their heartfelt condolences on our loss of Dustin,” he said. “I was pretty blown away is one way of putting it. I couldn’t believe he actually did it.”
Mr. Derga, a manager for Diebold Inc., said it was gratifying to be able to show his support for Mr. Bush and for the war, even if it has not always been easy to support the U.S. mission in Iraq.
“It’s been painful for this nation and me personally, but I still feel strongly about getting the job done over there and getting it done right,” he said. “It meant a lot to us that we were able to make our position known, that we continue to support him.”
But Mr. Derga said he is frustrated that many Americans do not think Iraq is part of the war on terrorism.
“I really feel strongly that this nation needs to wake up and understand what’s at risk here and what’s in the balance,” he said.
Mr. Derga said he visits his son’s grave in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, every few weeks.
“He had a wonderful smile and a great dimple. He was a great kid. He loved to play baseball. He just loved working with his hands,” he said. “And he was always interested in military service and public service.”
Cpl. Derga was a volunteer firefighter and a steelworker. He was working toward a degree as an emergency medical technician and fire science from Columbus State Community College.
“Probably his smile I miss more than anything,” Mr. Derga said. “I think about him every day. I know I’ll see him again, so it’s just a matter of time.”
Robert Derga hugged son, Marine Cpl. Dustin A. Derga, before his 2005 deployment. Mr. Derga gave President Bush the pen he used to write his son, who died while serving in Iraq.