Jake76I see KIA here, don’t you?


I sit in disbelief and feel completely helpless. Our country, your state and your small town have worked so hard to honor you and as I’ve said before, it’s not over yet. We still have the Little League season opener next week when a field will be named after you. In May we will attend the ceremony adding your name to the granite wall at the entrance of Ft. Carson, listing last year’s casualties. The problem is, I don’t know what will happen after that. Will you still be remembered? You have no descendants to remember you. What happens when we’re all gone? I can’t bear it. This year will end and then what?

This week has been especially upsetting. For the first time, a group refuses to honor you. Your school district (the one I taught in for so many years) will not be putting your name on the “Wall of Honor” at the Veteran’s Memorial Aquatic Center because a small Thornton organization is telling us that you are not KIA. That putting your name up there might reduce the integrity of the wall. Instead, you’ll get a brick outside in the garden. I am so upset and I feel so helpless.

Your Dad and your sister have joined me in fighting for you, but I am feeling defeated. You never like school anyway, so I shouldn’t worry about them. You are probably not surprised but I am in shock. The emails are as follows:

My son Jacob Henry Wykstra was killed in action 10 months ago in Maruf Afghanistan. He was selected from the infantry to be in a small medevac unit, trained to recover casualties and wounded soldiers from all NATO countries within the combat zones of Afghanistan. On May 28, 2014, Jake’s team was dispatched to recover Afghani casualties. Upon approach, the helicopter hit a dark communications tower and went down. There were 14 wounded and my son was the only casualty, as the Blackhawk landed on him crushing his body.

In January, in Jake’s hometown, a friend of mine, Doug Forsyth was at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center in our hometown and asked when Jacob Wykstra’s plaque would be installed. He was given Mr. Webber’s email address from the school district that owns the aquatic center. He sent the inquiry and this is what he received:

———- Forwarded message ———-  From:  Rob Webber-ESC

Hello Mr. Forsythe, your question was forwarded to me from Tammy at the VMAC.

Here is the background.  First thank you for your interest in honoring Jake.

We have been working with the Thornton Veterans Association who helps us identify those Adams 12 Students honored on the wall.  When we opened the VMAC and put the wall in to honor Veterans it was determined that the wall would be reserved for those that have been designated KIA, MIA, DWRIA.  The designation for Jake does not meet that requirement, however we will be honoring Jake with a brick in his name at the Memorial outside of the facility, there will be a ceremony later this Winter or early Spring.  We have been in contact with the Wykstra family to ensure we honor their privacy and recognize their feelings in whatever we do.   We will also be convening a group to discuss how we honor those Adams 12 Alumnae that have been killed or died during their service to the country, however did not meet the above designations.  I believe we may end up with another wall with a plaque and name plates identifying those Adams 12 Alumnae that died during their service to their country.

I hope this provides the information you were requesting.  If you have further questions please feel free to contact me at the number below.

Thanks again for your interest in Honoring Jake Wykstra.

Rob Webber

—–Original Message—– From: Hannah Rose

Mr. Webber, I am writing you this email regarding the plaque honoring my brother PFC Jacob Wykstra. I was forwarded the email you sent to our family friend Doug Forsyth about my brother not meeting the requirements to receive a plaque because the Thornton Veterans Association did not identify him as KIA, MIA, or DWRIA. I also saw that you said you had been in contact with my family regarding this matter; however it has come to my attention that you have not spoken with my mom, my father, or myself about this at all. I am wondering who you have been in contact with?? My family is upset about this situation. My brother has been designated and identified as KIA by the Department of the Army. We have documentation to show this, and I would be happy to forward you a copy. He was killed in a Blackhawk crash in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan on May 28, 2014. In fact, it says “KIA” on his headstone at Ft. Logan as well, and that is not authorized to be placed on a headstone unless the Department of the Army has designated him as such. My brother deserves every honor that we as a country can give him. While a plaque at the VMAC may not be a huge thing, he absolutely deserves one, and I would appreciate if you could look into this misinformation provided to you by the Thornton Veterans Association and remedy the situation. Feel free to call me, my mom Heidi, or my father Tom any time about this. I look forward to seeing his plaque. Heidi – 720-252-3455 Tom – 303-324-7880 Thank you, Hannah Donato President and Co-Founder Flights for Fallen Families Sister of PFC Jacob H. Wykstra, KIA, Maruf, Afghanistan, May 28, 2014

—-Original Message—– From: Tom Wykstra

  • Jake is designated as KIA by the Army – it says “KIA” on his headstone at Fort Logan, which (it’s my understanding) cannot be inscribed on the headstone unless the Army approves it
  • Jake was killed on May 28, at 11:38 p.m. when his platoon was assigned a mission to fly on a Blackhawk and medevac rescue a wounded International Security Force soldier.  The Blackhawk crashed attempting to land at the medevac site.  Seems pretty clear this is a combat mission?
  • Jake was awarded the Bronze Star because he was killed in a combat zone on a combat mission   303-324-7880  —–Original Message—–  From: Jim Branaugh < jimbranaugh@yahoo.com>  To: Tom Wykstra < tomwcfe@aol.com>  Sent: Tue, Apr 7, 2015 5:15 pm  Subject: Re: Adams 12 contact
  • Tom Wykstra, Gold Star Father of PFC Jacob Wykstra
  • Please advise the Principle of Horizon and others at Adams 12 who are involved in this that our family would like to be included on any ceremony in which Jake is honored at the aquatics center.    We appreciate your consideration and ask that you continue to help us honor and remember Jake. Thanks.
  • Last question – who designates “the criteria” for this wall??  Is it you – is it the full board of the Thornton Veteran’s Memorial Foundation?   The Mayor of Thornton and the full City Council have recognized Jake as a hero, and his sacrifice, so if the decision is to NOT include Jake on the fallen hero’s wall, we would like to appeal.
  • Are you stating that in order to be on the “Fallen Hero’s Wall” inside the building, then he must be awarded the Purple Heart??  Jake has not been awarded the Purple Heart (yet – still in review by top brass – so we are told).   He was clearly in a combat zone, on a combat mission, and we can provide other documentation to support that.
Jim Branaugh, Chairman, Thornton Veteran Memorial Foundation

Mr. Wykstra,

Yes, we do have the engraved paver. The school district has been notified, waiting on the principal at Horizon high school to see how they want to proceed.

As we have previously discussed, the criteria for the fallen heroes wall was established as death as result of enemy action and wounds suffered in combat, the individual being awarded a purple heart and declared killed in action (KIA) by the branch of service in which they were serving; and, a graduate of Adams 12 – 5 star schools.


From Tom Wykstra

Mr. Weber – please see the below email exchange between myself and Mr. Branaugh.

Again – we need clarification as to who sets the criteria for the heroes wall – and if the decision is to NOT include Jake, how we might appeal that.  Jake was killed on a combat mission – not much else to say.

Tom Wykstra, Gold Star Father of PFC Jacob Wykstra


Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2015 23:06:33 From: Jim Branaugh

Mr. & Mrs. Wykstra and Ms. Donato,

Thank you for contacting us.

The Fallen Heroes Wall of Honor is owned and maintained wholly by Adams 12 Five Star Schools.

While the Thornton Veterans Memorial Foundation (TVMF) provided guidance into its creation and the criteria used for determining names attached to the memorial, we have no control over the actual display.  We do assist Adams 12 in identifying potential candidates for the Wall of Honor.

The City of Thornton is a non-party to the Wall of Honor and has nothing to do with it and never has.  The Wall of Honor is located inside the Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center; the building and the property it sits on are owned by Adams 12.

The information the DOD released regarding Jake’s loss said it occurred as a result of an “aircraft accident.”  Contemporary news reports at that time indicated the same.  To our knowledge, none of the reports pointed to hostile activity.

As Mr. Webber pointed out in his Jan. 15, 2015 email (below), the criteria that was established for the Wall of Honor was for casualties that met Department of Defense definitions for KIA, MIA, and DWRIA.  The requirements for KIA and DWRIA, again as outlined by the DOD, apply to a “hostile casualty.”

The DOD’s definition of Hostile Casualty states, “A person who is the victim of a terrorist activity or who becomes a casualty “in action.” “In action” characterizes the casualty as having been the direct result of hostile action, sustained in combat or relating thereto, or sustained going to or returning from a combat mission provided that the occurrence was directly related to hostile action.”

Given those public facts and the lack of a Purple Heart award, Mr. Webber was correct in the assessment he provided back in January.  A loss as a result of an “aircraft accident” in its most basic form would not meet the bar.

I mentioned the Purple Heart because that is virtually always awarded to a Hostile Casualty.  As I type this, I don’t know that I have ever heard of the Purple Heart not being awarded in those cases.  The Purple Heart award has always been one of the requirements.

By contrast, while being awarded a Bronze Star is extremely notable, it can be and often is awarded in situations not involving “in action.”

Please know that it is not anyone’s goal to make this difficult for you and your families.  The commentary and decision was based on the information available to TVMF and Adams 12 at the time.

Obviously we all deeply value the service and sacrifice of all service members as is evidenced by the Thornton Veterans Memorial, the Veterans Memorial Aquatics Center and the Fallen Heroes Wall of Honor.

Jake was very clearly an extraordinary young man and one worthy of admiration and every honor possible – there is no doubt about that.  I am sure you can appreciate that it is simply everyone’s desire to keep the spirit and intent of the Wall of Honor intact.  To do otherwise would dishonor those whose names are on it. 

If you have documentation to show Jake was a KIA / Hostile Casualty as defined by the DOD and a recipient of the Purple Heart, I am quite certain that Mr. Webber and Adams 12 would re-evaluate Jake for inclusion on the Wall of Honor.


Jim Branaugh

From Tom Wykstra, Gold Star Father of PFC Jacob Wykstra

One more point – by your own email, the memorial inside the Aquatics center is called “Fallen Heroes Wall of Honor”.  So this wall is reserved for Heroes – right?   I appreciate your “criteria” and that those who are killed by “hostile action” are indeed heroes – I couldn’t agree more.   I pray for their families.  What about a soldier who is killed trying to save another soldier’s life in a medevac operation.  Is that soldier a hero?

What is offensive – is your recommended criteria that “hostile action” is a requirement – to qualify Jake for the “Heroes Wall”.  And the further suggestion that including Jake on this wall therefore “would dishonor those whose names are on it” – is also offensive.

Jake was in Afghanistan – at war – in a combat zone – was ordered by his Commanders to fly on a late-night mission to rescue other soldiers, had locked/loaded his weapon so he could establish a perimeter to secure the landing zone, by following the order of his Sergeant he had unbuckled his seat harness because they were 30 seconds from landing, and then the helicopter crashed while attempting to land – and he died on that mission.   I’m sorry if you don’t consider that situation – those actions – worthy of a “hero” status.  We do.

Tom Wykstra, Gold Star Father of PFC Jacob Wykstra


—–Original Message—– From: Heidi Katzenbach

Dear Mr. Branaugh,

Your letter is offensive to our family who has suffered a great loss. Your lack of compassion as a veteran is shocking.

I recently spoke to a full-bird Army colonel who bluntly informed us that the Purple Heart is basically given to only those who are shot or blown-up. “Killed in Action” is NOT reserved for only these recipients. Those killed in action are troops deployed to a war zone and killed as a result of any combat situation, even accidents. You are misinformed, or have not taken the time to learn the details of my son’s death. He was killed while on a combat mission when the medevac unit he belonged to was dispatched to recover Afghani casualties. During the mission, his helicopter crashed killing him and wounding 14 others. He was and always has been designated as KIA by everyone but you. Your letter infers that our son’s sacrifice is not worthy of a plaque on the VMAC.

You state, “The DOD’s definition of Hostile Casualty states, “A person who is the victim of a terrorist activity or who becomes a casualty “in action.” “In action” characterizes the casualty as having been the direct result of hostile action, sustained in combat or relating thereto, or sustained going to or returning from a combat mission provided that the occurrence was directly related to hostile action.” If this is the case, then Jacob’s death meets the criteria. You are confusing the Purple Heart award with KIA.

I apologize for my frustration, but your lack of understanding has caused our heart-torn family added grief, as it has only been 10 months since we lost our sweet son.

I received kind and compassionate phone calls today from Tim Shaffer and Ron Webber; therefore I believe this will be rectified. Here are two of many websites that list Jacob as KIA. I can get more if needed.

https://citizenjournalistreview.wordpress.com/us-war-casualties-afghanistan-by-date/   http://www.memorialbracelets.com/details.php?nameID=87593&eventID=19&name=wykstra&category=all&type=lastname&pagenum=1&search=yes

Tomorrow, Mr. Webber will receive information from the Department of the Army and I trust that he will take care of this. It seems this is where the information should have come from in the first place, rather than your personal and inaccurate understanding of the rule.

Heidi Katzenbach, Gold Star Mother of PFC Jacob Wykstra


It seems that the school district is relying on a small group of old veterans (The Thornton Veteran’s Association) from our small town to decide who is deserving to be on the “wall of honor” or if they should be on a brick outside of the building. You have always been designated as KIA by everyone but these people. You belong on a plaque on the inside of the building because you made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. I love you Jake and this will not end. You will be memorialized as you should be, and I will fight anyone to make sure this happens!