‘He knew who he wanted to help’

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Denver, Colo.-, September 19, 2016 | comments

Castle Rock parents Robert and Melissa MacTaggart never got the chance to celebrate the 21st and 22nd birthdays of their son, Jordan, with him.

For both, Jordan was fighting overseas with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia group in Syria, in the battle against ISIS.

During his first trip of two tours, Jordan could reach them every two to three weeks, Robert said. The second time around, communication was sparse.

“During that time it was a major undertaking,” Robert said.

In June, the YPG’s strategy became more aggressive. Robert and Melissa only heard from Jordan every couple of months. Eventually, friends who were serving with him informed the MacTaggarts that Jordan had been killed Aug. 3.

“A lot of them have reached out and told us stories,” Robert said. “How much he meant to them.”

The bodies of Jordan and two other Americans who died fighting ISIS with the YPG were brought home to their families last week, afterstrenuous planning on the part of several departments in the U.S. and abroad.

All three were flown from Amman, Jordan, to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Because of weight limits on domestic flights, they were transported by Amtrak after arriving in the U.S.

The body of William Savage, 27, of Maryland, was transported to where his father lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The bodies of Jordan, 22, and Levi Shirley, 24, of Arvada, arrived at Union Station in Denver at approximately 7:40 a.m. on Sept. 16.

The office of Congressman Ed Perlmutter coordinated plans to bring the men home. It meant acting as a liaison between the YPG, embassy personnel in Amman and the Iraqi cities of Erbil and Baghdad, and the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.

“These three young men — Levi, Jordan and William — felt a need to serve which led them to fight ISIS overseas,” Perlmutter said in a written statement. “Though they did not fight as members of our armed forces, they are Americans and as Americans we have a responsibility to bring these young men home and to give the families relief and closure.”

Susan Shirley, Levi’s mother, said this will help her family begin the lifelong process of grieving and healing from the loss of Levi. The family had originally planned a memorial for Levi in August.

“We didn’t know if he’d even ever be back,” she said.

Susan recalled learning about Levi’s death on July 19, days after he had died on July 14. It is the call Susan said she’ll never forget. At home, writing on her computer, she had started a normal day.

“I had one paragraph left,” she said. “And the phone rings.”

She answered to a man who said he was from the consulate in Turkey. 

“It in no way seemed possible because he had cheated death so many times,” she said.

Susan described Levi as her fearless son, who was never deterred by things that scared the average person. His childhood dream was to play for the Chicago Bears, until an accident injured his arm.

The MacTaggarts said their son Jordan was someone who cared for people his entire life. Watching the horrendous crimes ISIS committed against people in the Middle East propelled him to go to Syria.

“He knew where he wanted to help and he knew who he wanted to help,” Robert said.

“We are just incredibly proud of our son,” Melissa said.

His act opened their eyes, Robert said, to the bigger issues going on in the world.

Both families expressed immense respect for the Kurds, who paid for the entire cost of transporting the three men back to the U.S., and helped navigate transportation across dangerous borders in the Middle East.

Going through this experience with the Shirleys made the process easier, Melissa said.

“We thought we were really kind of alone in this,” she said. “And to find out that there was another family right here in Colorado, not even an hour away from us, was just really amazing.”

Content originally published by Colorado Community Media on September 19th, 2016.
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