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Local Soldier Wounded in Afghanistan Dies

Death of U.S. Army Specialist Derek McConnell announced on "Team Derek" Facebook page by family.

U.S. Army Specialist Derek McConnell, who lived in Parsippany, died Monday, according to posts by his mother and fiance on the Facebook page “Team Derek.”

McConnell, 23, was while patrolling in the Zahri District in Kandahar. The cause of his death is not immediately known.

After a year of treatment in Maryland, McConnell returned to New Jersey with a hero’s welcome to live in Parsippany in late 2012. He was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart.

“It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that our hero, Derek, deployed to Heaven today,” his mother Siobhan Fuller-McConnell posted on “Team Derek.” “He fought hard right until the end. He will be missed and never forgotten.”

The U.S. military presented McConnell with the Bronze Star Medal With Valor Device, the military's fourth highest award of valor. According to the U.S. Military, McConnell and fellow soldiers were brought in to secure an area where members of their platoon had been wounded after striking a pressure-plate improvised explosive device. McConnell volunteered to lead his fellow soldiers and found himself in a small minefield, the U.S. military said. He encountered two explosives and as a result lost his left leg and his right leg from the knee, among numerous other injuries. 

McConnell was engaged to Krystina Dressler of Fairfield. The couple competed against other military couples in "Operation Tie the Knot" and won a wedding of their dreams in the online giveaway. Dressler posted about finding her wedding dress on her blog, Something That Can Never Be Stopped: Us, earlier this month. 

He is a 2008 graduate of West Essex High School in West Caldwell. He was a member of Notre Dame Parish in North Caldwell, where he was an altar server. He entered the U.S. Army in January 2009. After finishing Airborne training, he was assigned to Catamount, B Co., 2-87 at Fort Drum. 

When McConnell was deployed in March 2011 and was shipped to Afghanistan, “He was upbeat and ready to serve his country,” his mother wrote on the Caringbridge.org blog, where she kept a journal about his recovery.

In addition to his mother and fiancé, McConnell is survived by four siblings, Michael, Kellina, Ryan and Sean.

Cheryl Schuck March 19, 2013 at 02:43 PM
My condolences to the family at this very sad time. No words can ease their loss, but I am truly sorry.
Terry Boudreau March 19, 2013 at 05:47 PM
I met Derek and saw him a few times as part of my work for PATCH. I cannot express my sadness in learning of his passing. He is a true American hero.
Patty Taylor March 19, 2013 at 06:05 PM
My heart breaks for his fiancee and family. May God keep you in his arms and comfort you in your time of sorrow. A true hero. Thank you for your service to our Country!
Jim Vigilante March 19, 2013 at 09:12 PM
Who knew that the young man I took off the helicopter in Afghanistan was from my hometown. I had a lot of hope for him once I found out who he was and he survived his injuries, he gave us a lot of hope. Remember freedom is not free there's always a price to be paid; Derek made the ultimate sacrifice and paid with is life and I am deeply saddened. My thoughts and prayers to the 2 most dedicated people I have met; his mom & girlfriend. I wrote about you Derek in my 2011 Veterans Day speech; I gave the definition of a hero: ""A 20 year old soldier, As they picked up his litter off the floor of the helicopter that flew him in from a FOB (Forward Operating Base), he was a big boy, they were prepared to use all of their strength to pick him up and carry him. When they grabbed the handle of the litter to lift him they almost lifted him up to the sky. He was so much lighter than they expected, then they realized he didn’t have any legs. Soldier you are my hero."". A Veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check payable to The United States of America, for an unknown amount, but up to, and including, his life..." - Author Unknown.
Brian Stenz March 20, 2013 at 09:19 AM
Thank you so much Jim. you yourself are a hero for helping in facilitating Dereks transport. Brian Stenz Madisonville Ky 101st Airborne Disabled
Jim Vigilante March 20, 2013 at 11:34 AM
It was a collective effort of amongst his brothers, medical staff, and my fellow Aerial Porters. THANK YOU for your service.
LGDIII March 20, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Every soldier in every time of war or peace is a hero! The selflessness it takes to risk ones life or even just the potential to do so is a trait to be commended.
Jim March 24, 2013 at 01:45 PM
Rest in peace

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