A Decade After His Father Was Killed In Combat, This Boy Got A Truly Heartbreaking Gift

Growing up without a father can be a crushing experience. Luckily for 9-year-old Logan Kettle, his family was willing to go to extraordinary and heartbreaking lengths to make sure that he knew who his father really was. Indeed, Logan received a gift that would remind him that his dad, Jeff, really was a hero.

The protection, inspiration and wisdom that many of us each receive from a father figure can be taken for granted, and for some, its absence can leave a void that echoes for a lifetime. Indeed, this can fuel constant questioning, self-doubt and unhappiness. But no one who knew him ever imagined that they’d lose Jeff Kettle. “He was this untouchable, Rambo guy,” Jeff’s brother, Clay, told USA Today. “Nothing’s going to happen to him. So when it did, that really shook me up.”

Jeff and his brother grew up in Texas City – and they seemed bound for the military from childhood. Their father was in the U.S. Air Force, and as boys the two would play at being actions heroes like Indiana Jones.

“People would see us in the bushes and just say, ‘It’s just the Kettle boys,’” Clay recalled. And it would seem as if the Kettle boys had a thirst for adventure as well as a strong sense of duty. Many years later, though, the horrors of war would come home for them.

When they were old enough, both of the brothers enlisted. Clay became a medic while Jeff completed airborne training, became an Army Ranger and then stepped into the world of the Special Forces and the Green Berets. “He wanted to be the best,” Clay and Jeff’s mother, Cindy Kettle, told USA Today. “He was tough, and the tougher the challenge, the more he wanted to go after it.”

Both brothers would be deployed in 2007, with Clay heading to Iraq and Jeff to Afghanistan. Clay would re-enlist for life, and in a matter of hours, his brother would leave on what would prove to be his final mission. Indeed, an unseen threat would soon bring tragedy to the Kettle family.

In the final photo of Jeff, taken before he left on his mission, he is seen giving the “rock on” hand gesture. Later that day, Jeff’s vehicle drove over a concealed explosive device – an IED – that killed him and three others.

Some 2,000 U.S. military personnel would lose their lives fighting in Afghanistan – and Jeff had become one of them. For military families, the fact that every farewell might be their last must have been unbearable. However, for those who lost a relative, their worst fears would be realized – and they would never be reunited.

At the time of his father’s death, Logan was just 15 months old. He would attend his father’s funeral – but he would never truly know the man. “It’s been really tough,” 9-year-old Logan told USA Today. “I don’t know what it’s like to have [a] dad. Everyone else in my class has a dad. Their dads are so great, and I bet mine was greater.”

Clay has now left the army after being hit by an IED blast. He’s clear, though, that it’s not his story that needs to be told. Instead, he’s made it his mission to keep his brother’s memory alive. There was something missing though: Jeff’s old dress uniform jacket.

In fact, the jacket had vanished after Jeff’s death – and it might have even been stolen. “It just kind of hit me in the gut,” Clay said. “I always wore my dad’s Air Force jacket.” This wouldn’t be the end of the story, though.

Armed with a photo of his brother in full uniform it was then that Clay began the task of recreating the jacket, with medals and all. He had particular trouble finding one item, though: Jeff’s Tunisian Jump Wings. “They were almost impossible to find,” he explained.

But Clay persevered. After an initial post on Facebook, word got out, and the community rallied to help. While the response was positive, the wings were elusive, however.

Luckily, an ex-classmate – Deanna Collier Thompson – was on hand 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,” she added. “It hit me to my core. Who would [do] something so dishonorable as taking away a piece of Jeff from his family?”

Deanna was committed to the cause, and she eventually found the Tunisian Jump Wings on eBay. Thus, the jigsaw was complete. It was now time for Clay to present the jacket to his nephew.

“I’ve got something,” Clay told Logan. His nephew’s reaction was exactly as Clay had hoped. “Wow,” Logan said. “Can I put this on?” he would add. His uncle had a simple reply. “I think that’s what everybody wants to see,” he said.

“He was the best dad,” said Logan’s mom. “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.”

For all present, it was an understandably emotional experience. Clay helped his nephew into the coat and explained that the attached Bronze Star and Purple Heart had been awarded to Jeff after he died.

“If he wasn’t in this world, we wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Logan. The tears in his eyes stressed that he truly understood the enormity of the moment. “I promise you, he died doing what he loved,” Clay replied.