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Terry Frei: Deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom at age 49, Lee Sargent was one tough Coloradan

December 2, 2018


Terry Frei 


 Army Staff Sergeant Timothy Andress delivers a folded flag Friday to Linda Epple, Lee’s Sargent’s sister during Sargent’s military honors burial ceremony at Heart of the Plains Cemetery in Roggen. Seated from left, Lee’s sister-in-law Sherrie Sargent; brother, Larry Sargent; Linda; and her husband, Bill Epple. (Jordan Reyes)

ROGGEN — Lee Sargent’s brother, Larry, and sister, Linda Epple, agree on what the tenor of Lee’s reaction would be if he spotted this column.

Something along the lines of: What the (heck) is that? Who went along with that?

“Lee would not do this, I’ll tell you this right now,” Linda Epple told me last week. “He would not have this article out in the paper.”

Larry Sargent, who lives in Briggsdale, 30 miles northeast of Greeley, voiced a similar sentiment, then added: “I guess you would say he was not a real big showoff.”

 Lee Sargent late in his Army service/ (Courtesy Epple/Sargent family.)

Lee Sargent was 61 when he suffered a massive and fatal heart attack on Nov. 10 at his winter home in Arizona — a winter home he had just purchased and moved into in late October.

Also a resident of Briggsdale, Lee was saluted Friday morning in a ceremony at Knights of Columbus Hall in Roggen, 42 miles southeast of Greeley, and then his cremated remains were buried within walking distance of the Hall, at Heart of the Plains Cemetery.

Linda and her husband, Bill Epple, live on the Epple Ranch in Roggen, and the Sargent and Epple families have adjacent sections in the cemetery.

Finally, Lee’s mourners — or maybe that should be “celebrants” — adjourned to American Legion Post 180 in nearby Keenesburg, sharing lunch and stories.

After serving in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer in his mid-20s, Sargent later re-entered the service and twice, in 2005 and ’09, was deployed to Iraq. He was with the 45th Sustainment Brigade, attached to the 101st Airborne Division — the famous “Screaming Eagles” — during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

When he first went to Iraq, Sargent was 49 years old.

Yes, 49.

He was a gun truck driver and a gunner, protecting convoys of supply trucks. When he earned the Army Medal of Commendation, the citation noted his “outstanding selfless service” and added that his “professionalism, loyalty and dedication to duty while serving in a combat environment reflect great credit upon him.”

Why was he so willing to do it?


 Attendees look over some of the pictures and memorabilia the family put on display to honor Lee Sargent at his memorial service at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Roggen. (Jordan Reyes)

Linda Epple considered her brother’s explanation to her so memorable, she included it in his official obituary.

“If I can take the place of one young soldier with a family, that is enough for me,” Lee told her.

Larry Sargent said his brother “just felt it was an obligation to the country. He was patriotic. He always kept in real good shape … . They sent him down to Texas for 90 days before they’d deploy them. They had to do physical fitness stuff and guys half his age were dropping out. I think he was proud of that.”

Keenesburg farmer Tyler Abbott, 39, served in the Marines in the early 2000s, and although he was much younger, was friends with Lee for many years. Abbott now is the commander of the Legion Post that hosted the post-funeral service and post-burial gathering Friday.

“He saw me grow up,” Abbott said. When Lee announced he was going back in the Army, Abbott was astounded. But Sargent gave Abbott the same reason he had given his sister. In deployment, he was willing to replace a younger, married soldier.

“We all thought he was crazy to sign back up,” Abbott said. “I mean, just because of his age. I thought it was awesome, and he was in as good of shape as a 22-year-old.”


 Pallbearers Sherrie Sargent and Larry Sargent carry the flag and box containing Lee Sargent’s ashes out as the memorial service ends at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Roggen Friday. The flag and ashes were taken to the nearby Heart of the Plains Cemetery for the burial ceremony. (Jordan Reyes)

Lee even tried to go back in the Army one final time, possibly for a third Middle East deployment, but didn’t pass the physical because of hearing damage he suffered in his previous stints.

By then, everyone in the area knew Lee could be a bit of a maverick.

The youngest of Loyd and Lorraine Sargent’s three children, Lee did cowboy-type chores on the family’s Sargent Farms in the Prospect Valley area, in Southeast Weld County. “It was an irrigated farm and we did cattle feeding and things like that,” Linda said.

“We worked long hours,” Larry said. “With cattle, it’s a seven-day-a-week job. You learned to do your work because nobody else would do it.”

Acting as the eulogist on the part of the family Friday at the Knights of Columbus Hall, Bill Epple recalled one of his first encounters with Lee, in 1969. Bill had just started dating Linda.

“Lee was a kid who was full of energy,” Bill said. “He couldn’t sit still and always had pranks up his sleeve. One summer day, Linda and I decided to ride her horse double bareback. As soon as we got on board, we noticed 12-year-old Lee running toward us. He was barefooted, wearing a pair of cutoff jeans and carrying a string of Black Cat firecrackers.

“He was running like an Olympic athlete and I knew we had a problem. He put the lighter to the Black Cats, gave them a fling our way and I jumped off the back, hoping for the best. Linda was soon bucked off. I headed after Lee and roughed him up a little, but wasn’t really mad.”


 A bugler plays taps as other members of American Legion Post 180’s Honor Guard stand by with their rifles for the three-volley salute at Lee Sargent’s military honors burial ceremony Friday in Roggen. (Jordan Reyes)

Lee started out at Weld Central High School, but quit and instead got a GED.

“He didn’t like school because it held him down,” Larry said.

“He was a round peg in a square hole,” Linda said.

She added that Lee was best known for “riding the pens.” She started to continue, but stopped.

“Do you know what riding the pens is?” she asked.

Uh, no.

“Riding pens is you’re on a horse and you’re in a feed lot and you’re checking cattle for sickness or injuries,” Linda said. “Sorting them. He was telling me one time it was so bitter cold, he had to keep his hands between the saddle pad and the horse just to thaw them enough to hold the reins.”

When Sargent Farms was sold in 1978, Lee was 21. “After that, he worked on several farms around this area as  cowboy,” Larry said.

Then Lee went into the Army for the first time, serving mostly stateside and in Central America, and then after his discharge took on a variety of challenges, including working at Monfort, driving big rig trucks and operating heavy equipment. “He loved Peterbilt trucks,” Linda said. “The 18-wheelers.”


 Bill Epple, Lee Sargent’s brother-in-law, lowers the container of Sargent’s ashes into the ground Friday in the family’s section at Heart of the Plains Cemetery. Watching are Lee’s brother, Larry Sargent; sister, Linda Epple; and sister-in-law Sherrie Sargent. (Jordan Reyes/For the Tribune)

He eventually settled in at Anadarko and was on military leave from the company as he re-entered the service and soon headed to Iraq.

There, he made it a habit to take American flags with him during convoys and then send them to friends and family.

He faithfully wrote to his sister, including about the convoys, which especially were subject to attack from Improvised Explosive Devices.

“Our spacing is three semis, and then a gun truck,” he told her. “The whole convoy is made up using that pattern. The convoy is about 20 trucks. The trucks are Humvees with 50-caliber guns and a turret, night visions and spotlights.”

He made it through that, returned to Colorado and worked again for Anadarko, retiring as a safety foreman.

On Friday, I heard the stories of Lee several times taking part in the marathon-length “Bataan Death March” at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, wearing his full Army uniform, carrying a 35-pound pack and finishing with blisters on his feet and back.

He also participated in an adventure race in the Colorado mountains, kayaking, rappelling and riding a mountain bike.


 The famed 101st Airborne patch and Lee Sargent’s name bar. (Terry Frei)

“He didn’t ever train on a mountain bike in his whole life,” Bill Epple said.

As others carried “healthy” provisions, including electrolytes, Lee stuck with pepperoni sticks and Snickers Bars.

He took up kickboxing, loved riding Harleys, Jeeps, dirt bikes and four-wheelers, and flew his own Tesla airplane. He also served in the Civil Air Patrol.


Lee Sargent at Fort Carson (Photo courtesy Epple/Sargent family)

After his retirement, he was just getting started in the routine of living in Arizona in the winter and Colorado the rest of the year.

But last month, Larry got a visit from Weld County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Ben Endreson and Weld County deputy coroner Byron Kaspilahn after Lee had been found dead in Arizona.

At the military honors ceremony at the Hearts of the Plains Cemetery, Taps was played. Other members of the Honor Guard from Post 180 fired three rifle volleys. Two active duty staff sergeants stationed as staffers at the Army Reserve Training Center in Windsor — Timothy Andress and Evan Napper — painstakingly folded the American flag that had been with the container of Sargent’s cremated remains. (If there is a casket at a military honors ceremony, the flag folded had been draped on it.)

Andress presented the flag to Linda Epple and, per protocol, told her: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

So, Lee … was this story OK?