|From The Daily Star-Journal dailystarjournal.com
JACK ‘MILES’ VENTIMIGLIA
say family huge in son's life
Warrensburg – Key points about how Army Spec. Joseph Cemper, 21, Warrensburg, died, are now public.
Cemper served with the 101st Sustainment Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, in eastern Afghanistan. In a tragedy similar to numerous others played out since the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, a murderer Saturday attacked Cemper and others at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Nangarhar Province.
Wearing explosives hidden under an Afghan National Army uniform – as opposed to fighting honorably in the uniform of the people he is believed to have represented, Muslim fanatics from the Taliban regime – the man blew himself to hell. In addition to murdering himself, he murdered Cemper; four other Americans, two of them women; four Afghan soldiers; and an interpreter.
These facts about Cemper being surrounded by Americans and others working to nurture the tenuous birth of freedom in a land once dominated by a homicidal theocracy tell about how he died.
Cemper’s parents, Eugene and Angela Cemper, revealed Thursday how he lived – as a young man bound to friends and family.
A native of Papillion, Neb., Joseph enjoyed the company of others and participating in sports.
“He played competitive baseball and he played football and soccer and everything up in Papillion and when we got down to Warrensburg, he just continued to march,” Eugene said. “He was one of these kids who didn’t care how big you were or how loud you were, and even if he was smaller than you, he would still go right up against you and butt heads. That’s the way he was.”
Being an Army sergeant and recruiter, Eugene had an opportunity to work in Warrensburg and discussed the idea of leaving Papillion with his family.
“When we first decided to take on that gig, we all sat down as a family and I explained it would be the hardest process we’d ever go through, but ... we would be just fine,” he said.
Eugene worked for a year in Warrensburg before moving the family to the community, which put Joseph in a new high school. The change did not seem to bother Joseph, Eugene said.
“Joseph was always highly competitive, energetic, always had a smile regardless of any roadblocks,” he said.
In Warrensburg, Joseph stood our in wrestling.
“He loved wrestling. I started coaching him and my other son when they were 5 and 6 years old. He really enjoyed being out there on the mat mano-y-mano and that’s just the way it was,” he said.
Joseph’s competitive spirit blended with an easy-going style of interacting socially.
“I don’t think the boy had any enemies, and if he did, they weren’t his enemy for very long,” Eugene said.
Several people in Warrensburg, including wrestling coach Steve Marr, talked about Joseph bringing a sense of family to his relationships with friends and team members. Eugene said family meant everything to Joseph.
“His happiest times were when we were all together, whether we were just being stupid, hanging out in the backyard and having a barbecue, or anything like that,” Eugene said. “And look at what he’s doing now – he’s bringing the entire family together.”
About two months before the Cemper family learned they would transfer to the Fort Worth, Texas, area, Joseph followed in Eugene’s footsteps by entering the Army.
“I used to call him my clone,” Eugene said, not only because of going into the Army, but based of general similarities. “Our voices are the same. We used to have fun – when I answered the phone at home, they’d think I was him.”
Joseph’s recruitment came with an understanding of risks.
“Ever since 9-11, anyone who joins, you always have that feeling in the back of your mind: ‘There’s a possibility I’m going somewhere.’ And those are the things we talked about and he said, ‘Dad, that’s what I want.’ I was very, very proud the day he enlisted in the United States Army.”
For many, boot camp is a time of personal challenge that pushes some people to their limits, but Eugene said Joseph arrived ready to overcome whatever obstacles he faced.
“It was nice that we were able to share that common experience in our lives,” Eugene said. “I always told him, ‘You have to give it everything you’ve got and you go until you can’t go anymore, because that way when you complete basic training, you’ll be complete – you won’t feel like you left anything out there – and that’s exactly how he attacked it.
“He was there to complete the mission. There was never any quit.”
Eugene said Joseph did not express anxiety about drawing duty in Afghanistan.
“We talked about that a lot. He was very excited about the opportunity that we was going to have. I had deployed before and he said, ‘All right, Dad, I’m matching you now. I’m going to finish the job you started.”
Before being a recruiter, Eugene served the Army in Desert Storm.
“He was actually an infant when I was there and it’s kind of ironic that he was going back to Afghanistan and he now had a small child.”
On Joseph’s last visit, in March, he got to see his high school sweetheart, 2008 Warrensburg High School graduate Abbie Lynn Wernimont, and their infant son, Liam Jerome Cemper, born March 15.
“She’s part of our family,” Eugene said.
Joseph never lived with the family in Texas, but got to visit.
“He fished in the creek out behind the house here and he caught some catfish. He loved fishing.”
While in Afghanistan, Joseph used social networking to communicate with family.
“I gave him the old Dad pep speeches, you know, you’ll get through and find your happy place – all the important things as far as being deployed – and I let everybody else have all the sweet talk. ... I always ended with saying I love you.”
Joseph’s mother, Angie, said that while in Warrensburg, the family attended First Baptist Church. Joseph had a saying that reflected his beliefs, she said.
“Anybody who played football or any sports with Joe in Warrensburg will know it, and it’s, ‘When I stand before God at the end of my life I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say that I used everything you gave me.’ That was kind of the quote that Joseph lived by,” she said. “He had that on his bedroom wall the whole time that we lived in Warrensburg.”
Eugene said Joseph returned to Afghanistan with a goal.
“Before he left this last time for Afghanistan, he said, ‘Dad, I’m going to get a Bronze Star.’ And you know what? He did it.”
Near the end of his final visit to Texas, Angie said, she talked with her son.
“We sat down and I said to Joseph ... ‘If it comes to that, are you ready to meet your Maker?’ And he says, ‘You know, Ma, I am. That’s why I’m not afraid to go back.’”
Angie said before he left she slipped a note into his wallet.
“It’s from a children’s book, and it’s, ‘I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.’ And I’d hide it so he would find it when he got to wherever he was going.”