NOT JUST ANY PEN

In Veto Signature, a Tribute

Bob Derga and his wife, Marla, join an Ohio ceremony honoring their son, Marine Cpl. Dustin A. Derga, and others. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 3, 2007

When President Bush vetoed the war spending bill, he used Bob Derga's pen.

"It was just a plain old black rollerball," Derga said. "Just a $2 pen."

But it was priceless to Derga, an Ohio engineer who used it to write letters to his son in Iraq.

Cpl. Dustin A. Derga, a reservist with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, was killed in a May 2005 assault just east of the Syrian border. For a grieving father, the pen remained a link to what he considers a young life lost for a good cause, and he wanted Bush to use it for a purpose.

It happened this way: On April 15, Derga and his wife, Marla, drove away from their home in Unionville, where a chiseled stone in Dustin's honor reads, "If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever." Derga was headed for a gathering the next day at the White House, where he hoped to have a minute with the president.

He had two principal objectives: the president's signature on Dustin's Purple Heart certificate and a chance to urge him to use the pen if Congress sent him a bill setting an October date to begin a U.S. military withdrawal.

After Bush spoke to the cameras and a supportive audience, an aide led the way for the Dergas and about half a dozen other families connected with Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission. When they reached the Oval Office, Bush was standing in the doorway.

"He greeted each family as we came in, gave us a hug and shook hands," Derga said. "Very emotional meeting. . . . He was choked up."

Derga said Bush spoke to the group, then with each family in turn. "He talked a little bit about how he didn't come to Washington to win popularity polls," said Derga, an engineer with Diebold Inc. "He's very firmly behind his beliefs and convictions, and he believes the test of time will prove him correct. He even said whether he lives to see that or not is immaterial. He can leave the White House knowing he did what was right."

During their private meeting, Derga made his plea.

"I handed him the pen and looked him in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, if this comes down to a veto, I want you to sign it with my pen.' He said, 'Yeah, I'll do it.' When we left, he was shaking everybody's hand. I said, 'I'm serious. I want you to do it.' He said, 'I will. I will.' "

A call from the White House late Tuesday gratified Derga.

"We very much support the direction the president's taken. It's not a popular one, but he's doing what I feel is morally correct. He's staying the course," said Derga, who aimed "to let him know we fully support him and we can be a little part of it. It's not on his shoulders alone. I'm supplying the ink. He's doing the pen motion. We're in it together."


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