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Army Capt. Daniel Whitten

Died February 2, 2010 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

28, of Grimes, Iowa; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an improvised explosive device Feb. 2 near Forward Operating Base Sweeney, Afghanistan. Also killed was Pfc. Zachary G. Lovejoy.

Captain’s star continues to shine

By Michael Futch

The Fayetteville Observer via Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The U.S. flag that draped Capt. Daniel Whitten’s coffin is carefully folded away in a shadow box that sits on one end of the living room table. The case also holds his military awards and decorations.

Whitten was scheduled to return home Aug. 26 from a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. The following day, he and his wife would have celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary.

His death changed all that, leaving his wife, Starr, a widow at the age of 27.

“We’re a growing number,” she said, “and I wish that weren’t the case.”

Starr Whitten and members of her husband’s unit — Company C of the 1st Battalion of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division — will remember Whitten on Sept. 11 during a paver stone dedication at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum downtown.

“That’s kind of the reason I picked the day — because the boys are going to be back,” she said. “Sept. 11 is a big day in history to begin with. So, I thought, what better way to honor Dan than on Sept. 11.”

Soldiers with the Army Wounded Warriors program are expected to bike from the Iron Mike statue on Fort Bragg to the original Iron Mike statue that keeps sentry in front of the museum, arriving in time for the ceremony.

Whitten was a cadet, in school at West Point Military Academy, when the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington crippled this country on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Dan’s philosophy was always to complete the mission,” she said. “So, since 2001, part of our mission has been to protect our nation from something like this ever happening again. His death, I guess, was part of the mission.”

It has been more than seven months since Starr Whitten heard the knock on the couple’s front door the evening of Feb. 2.

“I didn’t answer the door,” she said. “I knew who it was.”

Whitten had been killed that morning in the Zabul province of southern Afghanistan. A homemade bomb, the Pentagon reported, hit his Humvee.

Whitten and Pfc. Zachary Lovejoy, a soldier in his company, were up front. Both were killed by the blast from the improvised explosive device. Another soldier, Cpl. LeGrand Strickland, ended up losing both legs.

For security reasons, Starr Whitten said she learned only that they were on a mission near the Pakistan border.

“The details of the mission, I don’t know,” she said from her Fayetteville home. “I don’t know that I would ever know.”

The couple last talked on Jan. 28, less than a week before the accident. “He said he was going to be ‘off grid,’ “ she recalled, tears glazing her blue eyes. “He used to say his Ranger tab made him invincible, and I shouldn’t worry.”

Daniel Preston Whitten was 28.

On the dashboard of her car, Starr keeps another Ranger tab that he gave her. “He said I earned it, too,” she said softly. “Yeah, so it made me invincible.”

Pictures of the two together grace her home. He loved to read, and a collection of his books fills a couple of bookshelves. Even her two dogs, Copper and Nilla, were picked out by her husband.

The occasional tear trickles down a cheek, and she sometimes smiles as she weeps.

“I like to go down memory lane,” she said.

It was Starr’s older brother, Rick, who introduced her to her future husband.

Six years ago, as Starr was beginning her senior year at the University of Georgia in Athens, Rick brought Daniel along to help her move into her apartment. The men had both graduated from West Point in 2004, but had become close friends during infantry officer basic course at Fort Benning, Ga.

“I remember first thinking, ‘Beautiful. He’s a really good-looking man.’ For some reason we got to talking about Harry Potter,” she said. “I had read all the Harry Potter books, and Dan had read them all, too. My roommate pulled me into the bedroom and she was like, ‘Starr! That one! That one’s a Starr boy. You go get him.’ “ They married a year later, on Aug. 27.

Six days after that, Daniel shipped out on his first deployment, to Iraq.

“Dan loved the 82nd. That’s where he wanted to be,” she said. “Dan was doing exactly what he loved.”

Though she has no family here, Starr said she’s fortunate to have a circle of close friends. Last month, she started her second year teaching at Seventy-First Classical Middle School.

“Everything I’ve done since Dan’s death is — what I like to think — would be Dan’s decision for me had he been able to make them,” she said. “I think he would be pleased I stayed in Fayetteville. Pleased that I bought this house.”

The paver stone bearing his name will be placed on the entrance to the museum, where 1,437 other inscribed bricks have been installed. Most, but not all, are dedicated to fallen soldiers.

Three years ago, Daniel took Starr to a similar paver stone dedication at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum for Maj. Larry Bauguess Jr., a soldier who was killed in Pakistan.

The Whittens didn’t know him.

“He wanted to go pay his respects,” she said. “I remember how strong his wife seemed.”

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