SUPERIOR – Tom Logan takes a knee at the grave of his son, talking about the miracle of twos and endless sunsets. He talks of fishing and valor, and the trail of ashes that led him here, where he released his son, Cpl. Joey Logan, into the place he loved the most.
The young Marine’s ashes also lie in Arkansas and Hawaii. In a small way, he’s in Afghanistan as well, where his CH-53 helicopter crashed during a 2012 mission over the Helmand province.
Mechanical failure is what the Department of Defense told the family. All six Marines on board were killed.
“We sort of knew something was going to happen, and we think Joey knew it, too,” Tom said while sitting at the Lozeau Lodge, explaining how he’d spoken with his son the day he died. “He had that sixth sense, trying to tell me things were getting bad.”
Driven by what they see as signs and miracles, Tom and his wife, Debi, are working to fulfill the dreams of their son, who developed a fascination with Montana during a fishing trip before his death.
In their GMC truck, still clad with Texas plates and a Gold Star displayed in the rear window, the couple drove to the crest of their property near Superior, where Joey’s grave looks over a deep ravine.
It’s here, amid heavy timber and meadows peppered with blooming flowers, that the couple is developing the Red Lions Project – a name borrowed from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, to which their son belonged.
Strolling across their property they discussed their plans, starting with the six cabins they plan to build, each representing one of the Marines aboard the helicopter when it went down.
They plan to lend the cabins to returning veterans who need time away, and they want their stay to be free. The cabins must be large enough to accommodate family, and the surroundings must be quiet, giving guests a place to reconnect with life after war.
“You’ve got people who just need to unwind when they come back,” said Debi. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to get them back with the family, their kids, their nurse — whoever. It’s just a place to get away.”
Joey was working at a Texas lumberyard in 2008 when he first talked about joining the service. His father suggested the Air Force or Navy, but Joey wouldn’t have it.
He wanted to be a Marine.
Before he was slated to leave for boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, he cut his hand, severing nerves, muscle and tendons. Recovery came slowly and Tom suggested they take three months off to fish.
They left Houston to chase trout in the Rocky Mountain states before heading over to the Pacific Coast. With each cast and reel, the strength returned to Joey’s hand. They slipped into British Columbia to test the Canadian waters, then dropped south into Libby, Montana.
“That was it,” Tom said. “He fell in love with the place. He wanted to live in Montana after the Marines. He wanted to work in Montana and build a cabin for his Marine buddies to hunt and fish.”
Standing 6 feet 2 inches and tipping the scale at 220 pounds, Joey breezed through the mental and physical challenges of boot camp. He soon left for his first deployment to Afghanistan, where he served as an aerial gunner. He returned home without a scratch.
That should have been it — he’d done his time at war. But a buddy was tapped for deployment. The man’s wife had given birth to the couple’s second child, so Joey volunteered to take his place.
Then came the night of Jan. 19, 2012.
“Tom was sleeping and I was doing dishes,” said Debi. “It was around 10:30 p.m. There was a knock at the door and it was two Marines standing there.”
One Marine was taller than the other. For a short moment, Debi though it might be Joey home on leave. But it wasn’t Joey and the news carried by the two Marines hit hard: Joey had died in Afghanistan.
The Logans didn’t sleep that night. They walked the neighborhood. They tried to wrap their thoughts around what had happened. When day broke, they were standing outside, asking themselves what happens next.
It was serenely quiet – like the whole world had stopped for one instant. There was no wind, no breeze. For reasons they couldn’t explain, a single oak tree began to wave. The Marine Corps flag stood unfurled, as if filled by a hidden wind.
No other trees moved, Tom said.
The other flag hung limp, Debi said.
“It was Joey saying he’s OK,” Tom said. “It was him. It was his spirit.”
The signs they saw didn’t stop there. They’d planted five rose bushes, but none had bloomed. On the one-month anniversary of Joey’s death, two yellow roses opened on the plant dedicated to their son.
The other bushes held no roses.
“Within two weeks, the first rose dropped its petals,” Tom said. “I picked them up to dry them and started counting — 19, 20, 21, 22. There were 22 petals. He was 22 when he died.”
Tom says everything has come in twos and sixes since Joey’s death. Numbers have aligned. Signs have emerged. Miracles, he said, have happened.
The couple loaded their truck and retraced the drive Tom had made with Joey when fishing for trout across the West. This time, it was a quest to fulfill their son’s dreams of building a cabin, a search to find their son a suitable resting place.
In western Montana, a Realtor showed them three properties. The first two didn’t suit their needs. The last was what they were looking for.
“This was it,” Debi said. “We knew it right away.”
Flicking a tick off her jeans, Debi points to one meadow, noting the location of the cabins they plan to build, one for each Marine: Capt. Daniel Bartle, Capt. Nathan McHone, Master Sgt. Travis Riddick, Cpl. Jesse Stites, Cpl. Kevin Reinhard, and Cpl. Joey Logan.
They call them the “Fallen 6.” Joey’s name on the team was “Caveman.” Old logging roads cut across the 164-acre property where the cabins are planned. They lead to quiet dead ends, one of which holds Joey’s headstone.
When the season is right, the grave lends a view of the sunsets over the Bitterroot Mountains. Joey’s life savings and life insurance policy, along with the Logans’ own savings, helped buy the property.
“We have other organizations we’re working with, and most are in Texas,” Tom said. “We haven’t done much with the organizations here yet. We’ll need to tailor the stay of each veteran to the individual family. It’s a retreat. It’s comfort.”
Debi said they plan on drilling a well and installing a septic system this month. There are hurdles they must overcome, fundraising for the cabins foremost among them.
Transportation for the Red Lions Project from Missoula International Airport to the site may be another. Volunteers to head recreational outings will be needed, be it fishing or hiking, relaxing or watching wildlife.
They say they’ll tackle each hurdle as it comes and plan to have the project running for veterans next summer.
“We have our 501c3 status in place, and we’ve got a website up and working,” Tom said. “There are people wanting to make contributions. I believe in my heart it’s going to be an awesome thing.”