By Annette Hinkle
There’s a candle burning in the window of Ed and Bethany Deyermond’s home at 12 Ackerly Street in Sag Harbor. And it will continue to glow, day and night, until Sargent First Class Russell Littel comes home.
Littel, a member of the Texas National Guard, is married to the Deyermonds’ daughter, Kate. Last Tuesday, September 11, Littel’s unit reported to Ft. Hood in Texas for deployment to Afghanistan. Bethany and Ed Deyermond traveled to Texas last week to join their daughter and two-year-old granddaughter, also Bethany, in seeing him off.
“It was hard, but everyone did alright,” says Bethany of the emotional farewell at Ft. Hood. “Russ wanted us there and I felt it was important, so we went. We especially wanted to be there that night with Kate and the baby.”
When she and her husband arrived back in Sag Harbor last Wednesday, Bethany put the candle in her upstairs window where it will remain until her son-in-law comes home.
According to Bethany, it’s a tradition she first learned about during a visit to her husband’s hometown of Andover, Massachusetts in the early 1970s.
“I loved to visit there and I noticed a house with one candle in the window,” recalls Bethany. “This is after the holidays, so I asked my in-laws about it and they told me it was a tradition that if a family had a solider in active duty, they’d light a candle in the window for them to find their way home. At the time, it was probably for someone in the Vietnam War.”
“I always remembered that, and when I heard Russ would be going to Afghanistan, I called my sister-in-law, a librarian in Andover, to look into it for me,” adds Bethany. “She found out it was a Civil War tradition.”
It’s memories of another soldier — Sag Harbor native Jordan Haerter — that inspired Bethany, a teacher at Sag Harbor Elementary School, to send Littel off to Afghanistan in this manner. In 2008, Lance Corporal Haerter and a fellow Marine were both killed when a suicide bomber detonated a truck at the checkpoint they were defending in Ramadi, Iraq. Haerter was just 19 years old.
“With all this going on you can’t help but to think back to Jordan,” says Bethany. “He had been a student at the elementary school — and I didn’t even know he’d gone over there. I always felt after what happened with Jordan, I would like to have seen him march down the street with all of us there to see him off instead of receiving him back.”
Now Bethany is hoping that people throughout Sag Harbor will do the same and place one candle in their window, keeping it lit until her son-in-law comes home from Afghanistan.
“If other people want to put the candle in the window, I’d love it,” says Bethany. “Nothing would make me happier than seeing candles lit in windows all over Sag Harbor. It would fill my heart with joy.”
Though not a native son of Sag Harbor — Littel is from Madison, Wisconsin — in many real and tangible ways, Sag Harbor is now his hometown. This past May, knowing that deployment was approaching, he delivered the Memorial Day address at the American Legion in Sag Harbor where he emphasized the bond between small communities like Sag Harbor and the missions undertaken overseas by service men and women.
While being the wife of a deployed soldier can be difficult — especially with a child — Kate has a unique perspective on the situation. In Texas, both she and Littel are civilian employees with military jobs. They both work in the Business Initiatives (BI) division and their cubicles are diagonal from one another. Kate’s job is in the hospitality field arranging lodging and special events for military personnel and their families, while her husband, an executive chef, travels between bases to trouble shoot and manage military kitchens and staff.
But Littel is also a long time member of the National Guard, and as he and Kate have moved to new jobs around the country, he has transferred guard units with every move. This is the first unit he’s been with that has been deployed and Kate notes having a military job makes it all a bit easier for her.
“We’re lucky. I know the programs, the support systems and have access to resources — especially through my time at Fisher House,” says Kate, referring to the facility near Walter Reed Medical Center, which housed military families while soldiers recuperated from injuries. “Other families might not have so much knowledge and feel more alone.”
And when it comes to support, a lot has changed for military families in recent years. Littel’s deployment is expected last at least nine months — though it could go longer, so in the middle of his training this past summer, Kate took part in a Yellow Ribbon Ceremony held for families of soon to be deployed soldiers. The event offered classes for spouses, “daddy” dolls for the children, and Russ made a video of himself reading a book to Bethany that she can watch while he’s away.
“I also made some good friends who live about an hour and half away,” adds Kate. “We’ve agreed to try and meet once a month.”
But when it comes to getting through a deployment, Kate finds there’s nothing like a hometown crowd.
“I just feel so supported through all of this, especially from Sag Harbor,” notes Kate. “Whether it is talking to Jessica McAree McMahon [wife of a soldier from Sag Harbor] about how to ease the deployment stress for our children or knowing that Elisa Carney has the first care package ready to go, or going to sleep at night thinking about the candle that is still burning in the window at 12 Ackerly Street, it is a full circle of support, love and prayers.”
“I thought that I was supporting my friends when they went through this, but you can never really fully understand what it is like to be in this position unless you are in it,” she adds. “It definitely takes a village and I am proud to call Sag Harbor home and know that Sag Harbor is helping us get through this.”
And the village is coming through. On Monday, Bethany Deyermond added a new post to her Facebook page
“Two more houses on Ackerly St. have candles in their windows! I’m glowing too!”
To join Russell Littel’s support page on Facebook, email Kate Deyermond at Kathryndeye@yahoo.com. To sign up to send him care packages, visit http://www.signupgenius.com/go/30E0A4DACAA2EAA8-russ.