Son's gift carries memory of dad who made ultimate sacrifice

After a 9-year-old boy's military dad died in 2007, his dress uniform went missing. So the boy's uncle began painstakingly recreating it for the boy. News 8's Tanya Eiserer has more.

Full disclosure: News 8's Tanya Eiserer attended Texas City High School with Clay Kettle and learned of his efforts when he posted about it on Facebook.

COLLEGE STATION – At age 9, Logan Kettle knows all about loyalty, honor and loss.

You see, his dad, Jeff Kettle, was a Green Beret. He was killed in combat in 2007. Logan was just 15 months old.

"It's been really tough," Logan said. "I don't know what it's like to have dad. Everyone else in my class has a dad. Their dads are so great and I bet mine was greater."

There is another thing Logan wishes he had — his dad's dress uniform jacket. Somehow, in the days after his dad's death, it disappeared eight years ago.

His uncle, who has made it his mission to keep his brother's memory alive, decided he had to do something.

"It just kind of hit me in the gut," said Clay Kettle, a combat veteran. "I always wore my dad's Air Force jacket."

So he used his brother's service record and a picture of the uniform, and painstakingly tried to recreate that jacket for his nephew. After months of piecing it together, Clay presented the jacket to Logan last week at the family's home in College Station.

"I've got something," Clay told his nephew.

"Wow," Logan said. "That looks exactly like the one I haven't seen yet."

Clay explained to Logan he also put the Bronze Star and Purple Heart on the uniform that his father received posthumously.

"I promise you, he died doing what he loved," Clay told him.

From the start, Clay and his brother seemed destined for the military. They spent hours as boys pretending to be Rambo and Indiana Jones in the front yard of their Texas City home.

"People would see us in the bushes and just say, 'It's just the Kettle boys,'" he recalled.

Clay would become a combat medic.

ID=72047044Jeff followed the warrior route, first completing airborne school, then becoming an Army Ranger and Green Beret. He won his first Bronze Star for finding huge weapons cache. A picture shows him standing in a huge crater after they blew it up.

"He wanted to be the best," said their mother, Cindy Kettle of Decatur. "He was tough, and the tougher the challenge, the more he wanted to go after it."

In 2007, Jeff deployed to Afghanistan with his Special Forces unit. Clay deployed to Iraq.

On the same day Clay re-enlisted for life, his brother left on a combat mission. A photo shows Jeff giving the 'Rock and Roll' sign as he leaves on that final mission.

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Clay soon got word that he needed to call his other brother.

"He said, 'We lost Jeff,'" Clay said. "About 30 seconds later, there was a mortar attack right where we were, and I had to call my brother back."

Jeff and three others were killed when they drove over a massive, buried IED as they drove through a dry river bed. Jeff was survived by his wife and two children — Logan and their older son, Donovan.

"He was this untouchable, Rambo guy," Clay said. "Nothing's going to happen to him, so when it did, that really shook me up."

The family buried Jeff at Arlington Cemetery, the resting place of heroes. A photo of Logan, held by his grandfather, shows him saying a final goodbye.

Jeff Kettle is one of more than 2,000 service members killed in Afghanistan, and the only one from our hometown of Texas City.

Clay is now medically retired after himself being injured by a roadside bomb. He doesn't like to discuss the details.

He says he recently learned that his brother's uniform jacket had never been found. This past May, when he saw a picture of Logan wearing his father's camouflage gear, it set him on a mission to recreate that jacket for his nephew.

Clay also posted on Facebook about the difficulty that he was having finding one final piece -– Tunisian jump wings.

"They were almost impossible to find," he said.

Another former classmate, Deanna Collier Thompson, found the wings on eBay after seeing Clay's post. We asked her why it was so important to help.

"There will never be a way to repay them for their loss, and Jeff's service and sacrifice," she wrote. "I was so angry when Clay posted about Jeff's uniform being stolen. It hit me to my core — who would so something so dishonorable as taking away a piece of Jeff from his family?"

For Clay, it was all worth it when his nephew asked this question: "Can I put this on?" Logan asked.

"I think that's what everybody wants to see, believe it or not," his uncle replied.

Clay helped roll up the sleeves of the jacket and button it up from the top to the bottom — the military way, of course.

"He was the best dad," Logan's mother said. "I'm sure they would be best friends. It's bittersweet. I wish he could have gotten to know the man that wore it originally."

Logan's eyes brimmed with tears as he proudly wore it.

"If he wasn't in this world, we wouldn't be standing here today," Logan said.

"Him, and men like him," his uncle added.

Logan's uncle still holds out hope of finding the real jacket. But in the meantime, there is comfort in knowing his nephew has the next best thing, along with mementos to honor a hero. His dad.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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