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Army Chief Warrant Officer 1 Erik C. Kesterson, 29, of Independence, Ore.; assigned to the 9th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; killed Nov. 15 when two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Mosul, Iraq.

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Erik Kesterson, two times a hero

11/18/03

W here do we find these people? So goes the now-cliched question when the United States finds itself in tough spots. An uncliched answer came this past weekend.

We find them in small Oregon communities such as Vernonia, where Warrant Officer Erik C. Kesterson went to high school, and we find them in Independence, where the 29-year-old member of the 101st Airborne Division lived most recently. And we too often find their names on the lists of war dead, as we did Sunday with Kesterson, who piloted one of the Black Hawk helicopters that crashed in the northern Iraq city of Mosul.

Only then do we learn what their family and friends have long known. Only then do we learn about the exceptional person that family and friends will now know only in memory.

The United States found Kesterson twice, which makes his life and death all the more noteworthy. He spent eight years in the Marines as a crew chief and gunner on helicopters. He was awarded the Marine Corps Medal of Heroism for pulling seven men out of a burning helicopter crash. He left the Marines, but after Sept. 11 he re-enlisted in the military, joining the Army's warrant officer program.

"He was very patriotic and believed in this country," his father, Clayton Kesterson of Independence, said. "He's a good man."

It's hard to imagine higher praise for a son. Or, under the circumstances, harder words for a father to utter. But a grateful state and nation should, at least, acknowledge their truth.

Oregon man among 17 killed in Black Hawk crash

11/17/03

ASHBEL S. GREEN, The Oregonian

A Vernonia High School graduate who deployed to Iraq less than three weeks ago was one of the 17 soldiers killed in Saturday's helicopter crash in the northern city of Mosul.

Warrant Officer Erik C. Kesterson, 29, a member of the 101st Airborne Division stationed in Fort Campbell, Ky., piloted one of the two Black Hawk helicopters.

His father said he was carrying a rapid response team to help ground troops under fire.

"His aircraft was hit. They're not sure what it was," Clayton Kesterson said Sunday. He was told of his son's death Saturday night.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, Department of Defense officials said Sunday.

Another victim of the crash, Spc. William D. Dusenbery, 30, was married to an Oregon woman and lived in the Grants Pass area from about 1991 to 2001. He and his wife, Rochelle, separated several years ago. She now lives in Arcata, Calif. The couple has a daughter.

"He was trying to straighten his life out," his father-in-law, Neil Powers of Grants Pass, said of Dusenbery's decision to join the Army.

Clayton Kesterson said his son joined the Marine Corps in 1993 after graduating from Vernonia, west of Portland.

Until then, he was mostly into cars.

"He was very mechanically inclined. He spent most of his time dealing with a '67 Charger," said Clayton Kesterson, a retired United Airlines mechanic living in Independence southwest of Salem. "He didn't come into his own until he went into the Marine Corps."

Erik Kesterson spent eight years in the Marines as a crew chief and gunner on Huey and Cobra helicopters. Shortly before he left the Marines, he was crew chief on a Huey that crashed in California. After the helicopter burst into flames, Erik Kesterson pulled out seven men, his father said.

He was awarded the Marine Corps Medal of Heroism.

After the Marines, he went to work for McMinnville-based Evergreen Airlines. He sold aircraft parts.

But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks drew him back to the military.

"After 9/11, he got to feeling that he needed to do more. So he applied for the Army warrant officer program," Clayton Kesterson said.

That's where he learned to fly Black Hawks. He left for Iraq on Oct. 29.

Clayton Kesterson and his wife, Mary, visited Erik and his girlfriend, Christine Hogan, shortly before he left Fort Campbell for Iraq. Erik had bought a house in nearby Tennessee.

"He's a great guy. Everybody liked him," Clayton Kesterson said. "He's got a great sense of humor. He was very professional. He was born to be military. Duty for our country. That was Erik."

Before Erik left, he and his father were in the process of building full-size replicas of 14 World War I fighter planes. Five have been cleared to fly by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It was a lot of fun. A lot of work," Clayton Kesterson said. "By the summer, I hope to have them all in the air."

In addition to his parents, Erik Kesterson is survived by three step-brothers and a grandmother.

Alex Pulaski of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. Ashbel S. "Tony" Green: 221-8202 or tonygreen@news.oregonian.com