For two of Staff Sgt. Jason Cantell’s three young boys, Old Glory and their dad are synonymous.
“They knew daddy was a hero,” said Tiffany Cantell, his wife of seven years. “Every time they see an American flag, it’s ‘Daddy’s flag.’"
Cantell, who served in the U.S. Army from 2004-11 and completed two tours in Iraq, died Sept. 15, some six years after being struck by an IED. He was laid to rest Sept. 21 at the Skyvue Memorial Gardens in Mansfield.
He was 27 years old.
“He was a devoted husband,” Tiffany said. “He always put himself last. He wanted to make sure that me and the kids had everything we needed, even if it meant he went without.
He is survived by his wife, Tiffany; three sons, Caleb, 6; Jason Christopher, 4, and Carson, 4 months; his parents, Michael and Laura Cantell, who reside in Crowley, and grandmother Deloris Johnson, who also lives in Crowley, as well as numerous other family members and friends.
Cantell, who attended Crowley High School in 2004, joined the Army in 2004 so he could “grow up,” Tiffany said, who was dating him at the time he joined the service. “He thought it would change him (for the better).”
She said it did.
“He was a totally different person when he was in the army,” she said.
After joining the army, Cantell went to basic training at Fort Campbell in Kentucky after which he was assigned to Fort Hood in Killeen, and he and Tiffany, who were married June 17, 2005, stayed there for six years.
She was there alone for at least two years when he was deployed in Iraq from December of 2005 to December of 2006 and again from March 2008 and March 2009.
It was during his first tour when his convoy was struck by an IED, and the effects of it were what took his life some six years later.
Cantell’s humvee was hit by an IED, overturned and he suffered a third-degree concussion. After just two days in the hospital, Tiffany said, he was sent back out with his unit.
But his injury turned out to be more.
At first, his Traumatic Brain Injury went undiagnosed, but over a four-year span it started rearing its ugly head.
During this time, he completed a second tour in Iraq and was preparing for a third at Fort Carson in Colorado when his medical profile, which now included TBI, wouldn’t allow him to go with his unit.
He received an honorable medical discharge in 2011.
The effects of the TBI continued to get worse, however.
“He started having memory loss. It was really bad. He couldn’t remember anything,” Tiffany said. “Everyday I had to help him remember things because he couldn’t. I had to remind him to take his meds.”
Along with his TBI, the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder emerged and his right ankle, which he injured several times on tour, was getting worse, too.
On Aug. 27, a little more than two weeks before his death, he went to the doctor complaining of headaches. Tiffany said the doctor upped his medicine, but didn’t do any further tests, like a CT scan.
On Sept. 14, Tiffany said she found him in his bed, unresponsive.
“I already knew he was gone and I couldn’t accept it,” Tiffany said. “My heart said one thing and my head said another. My head told me there was nothing they could do, but in my heart he was not gone.”
She performed CPR on him before the paramedics arrived. He was taken first to Huguley Hospital and then to Harris Methodist Southwest downtown.
He was placed on life support.
“It was hard seeing him breathing, but it was not him doing it,” she said.
He was taken off life support around 7:30 p.m. Saturday and died at 7:44 p.m.
The cause: a ruptured brain aneurysm which had traveled to his heart.
“I asked him several times why he joined the army and he said he wanted him his family to be safe and his loved ones,” Tiffany said. “He said, ‘I am willing and if I have to I will give my life to make sure this country has what it needs’ and that his family would be safe,” Tiffany said. “He didn’t mind giving his life when he was deployed because he knew what it was for, just like any soldier. His biggest fear is what happened to him. He would come home and die from something else.”
For his boys, the flag will serve as a constant reminder of their father who gave his life for them.
“I plan on telling them that all he cared about was them and making sure that all their dreams came true and that he did whatever he needed to do to make sure they were safe,” Tiffany said. “He loved his boys more than anything.”
A fund has been established under his name at Wells Fargo Bank.