A Hard Road Home (Part Eight) Searching for Derwood Twigg

When I started building a class website, one of the reasons was because of all the hassle involved in using the other sites.  It did not seem like any one site was going to ever be the gathering place, ala Facebook, that any of them had envisioned.  I became convinced that most people joined a reunion site out of curiosity, but were quickly disillusioned, because there were very few of their classmates that had joined before them, and the majority of those that had had left no updates, stories, pictures, or contact information.  What I saw was competing websites competing for one thing: our money. 

On one site, classmates.com, I got particularly tired of messages telling me that “Fourteen women in Lost Nation are looking for a man like you!”  One is not likely to find fourteen women in Lost Nation on any given afternoon, let alone fourteen who want to meet a man like me.  I also am not interested in playing games with chickens and farms, building a make-believe agricultural empire, or seeing if I can capture all the jewels.  I don’t want to go back to school to learn medical transcription, or apply for any unclaimed scholarships for a career in law enforcement or paralegal training.

Because I had already made one master list, of names and last known contact information, for our class, it also quickly became apparent that the 600+ from my class, that classmates.com claimed they had registered, was really 600+ from every graduating class that had ever graduated from Davenport West.  When I narrowed the search down to just 1971, I found that the remaining list still contained too many people.  There were people who had graduated in different years, and people who had graduated from Waterloo West, Sioux City West, and even from Davenport Central!

I found all this out by going one name at a time, looking to see who had left any stories of what they had done since high school.  I wanted to produce a document of stories for our 40th reunion.  Unfortunately, very few people (less that five percent) had written anything, and many of those who did had gone to one of the “other” schools. 

One of the most interesting entries was made by Derwood Twigg.  I did not remember there ever being a Derwood Twigg at Davenport West.  The name was certainly one I would have remembered, from producing the master list from the yearbook.  I almost skipped over it without opening the “details” screen.

Derwood Twigg had gone to Davenport Central, and graduated in 1971, and he had left a rather lengthy entry about his life after high school, and how he had ended up in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis/ St. Paul area.

“Why can’t members of my class leave entries like this,” I thought.  “Well, let’s just do a little internet search on Mr. Derwood Twigg, then.  I love that name.”


Written by Derwood Twigg, father

As a youngster, David loved swimming and gymnastics.  At 8 ½ years old, David swam 5000 (yes─five thousand) yards continuous freestyle.  That’s 50 football fields…swimming!  It was for a fundraiser.  When he was 10, he was the state champion in the Breaststroke.  At 11, he swam a breaststroke time at a zone swim meet that was 19th in the nation.  His performance in gymnastics, while not as exceptional as in swimming, was up to the national level.  He also was playing jazz and blues saxophone, bending notes, sliding from note to note, and making that “gutty” or raspy sound.  It was so much fun to listen to.

After graduating from high school, the Navy would not guarantee “Search and Rescue” (SAR).  So to his older brother Jim’s dismay, David joined the USAF Pararescue (PJ), which is the Air Force’s elite team with the sole mission of rescue of those in peril, wherever and whenever needed.  PJ’s train just like the Navy SEALS do and it is very brutal.  During David’s PJ training, he sprained his ankle, pulled a groin muscle, and broke his wrist, none of which stopped him.  In fact, he insisted on only taping his wrist because a cast would have pulled him from training.

When he was in deep water traini, he drowned and was revived on deck, NOT an uncommon event during any of the elite force training programs. David told me that this happens to someone every 2 or 3 days.  When this happens, the trainee is given the choice of leaving the service, finding a new job in the branch enlisted in or getting back in the water and continue training.  This shows how only extreme elite can become a member of the Special Forces.  Keep in mind that only a select few can pass the test to start PJ training, and less that 10% of those pass the course.  When this happened to David, he decided that, because of his injuries, he needed to switch to a new job.  But, he vowed that he would return one day to complete his PJ training and fulfill his aspirations to become a member of the world’s elite rescue team, the USAF Pararescue.

That is when David decided to switch to Fire Rescue, also a very intense training program.  He transferred from Lackland AFB to Goodfellow AFB at Christmas time in 1999.  He was able to come home for 3 weeks at that time.  Then, he returned to Goodfellow AFB inSan Angelo,Texas, a world-renowned fire fighting school.  His discipline from sports and PJ training served him well.  He was 110% gung-ho USAF Fire Rescue.  David was a very vocal motivator, and an inspiration to all that met him.  “We could be returning from a long hump on a really hot day, and Twigg would sound off a Jody that brought us back into camp with as much energy as when we left.”  David had a strong reputation for his anti-drug and anti-alcohol position.  “When we formed these men up in the middle of the night to search rooms for contraband, we simply walked by when we came to Twigg’s door and smiled as we heard him sound off to the roll call quite unlike anyone else… While most were half asleep and groaned a response, Twigg always burst out his response… and then some!”  David was loved deeply and highly respected professionally by all on base.  “If I went into a fire, I would want Twigg at my side.  If we ran into trouble, Twigg would bring me out or die trying!”  David was also very active in the community and popular in the high school where he was helping with the gymnastics training.  Local businesses knew him and loved him, too.  “David always brightened the whole room as soon as he entered”, commented the owner of the dry cleaners that David used.  Having completed all qualifications for his Fireman’s badge, David had flight orders to deploy to Ramstein AFB inGermany.

But, on 11 June 2000 at 0200 hours, Lt. Col. Furs of the USAF visited our home.  He informed us that at 1500 hours of 10 June, 2000, the previous day, our 18-year old son, Airman First Class David Andrew Twigg, “had been involved in an automobile accident that killed him.”  Two days later, David’s Fireman’s Badge was presented to us at a memorial service at Goodfellow AFB.  I will never forget the sight of theUSflags at half-staff in my son’s honor.  Everyone at the base and fromSan Angelowas so warm and sincere as they expressed how deeply our son had touched their lives.  Goodfellow AFB sent a Master Sergeant to escort our son home for his funeral and burial.  David was buried with full military honors atFt.SnellingNationalCemeteryon 16 June 2000.

It is so painful and difficult to struggle through each day, and try to do my best to stand tall to honor my son’s commitment to USAF Fire Rescue.  Each day he woke, David sounded off his motto,



In the desert, there is a blooming season.  For most of the year there is only protection and potential.  There is always a beauty within, but it is starkly hidden, hard to discern, held back to preserve life, in the midst of meager circumstance.  But, when the rains fall, there is enough.  It is time for feasting.  All creation shares an abundant elixir of purpose.  Today, we shall celebrate!  This day, we fulfill our destiny—to have survived!  And so, we sing of glories past, and forever after.  Renewed.  Refreshed.

It does not last long.  The rains stop, and barrenness returns.  Life will be hard again.  Worlds contract.  Survival reigns.  Many will wonder, “will this be the last blooming season?”

Our Reunion was a success, by outward measures of attendance, etc.  I had not chatted with as many of my classmates as I would have liked, because of “busyness” with techy things (i.e. video streaming).  I wondered, when it was over, if the nostalgic lure would continue online, or would this have been a momentary respite from each one’s present reality.  Soon, however, the expressiveness of things remembered, things nearly lost, did fade.  Visits to our group page diminished.  Days would go by without a single entry.  We were back in our own stories now.

Some returned to stressful situations, family hurts, and personal trials too deep to share in a shallow diversion.  We have a common thread, and sometimes a common angst.   We can feel for the Derwood Twiggs among us, but, I don’t think we “reunion” in order to commiserate.  We are looking to feel good.

I was turning very introspective.

Nostalgia is mostly wistful, I thought.  It satisfies, like a dream.  It is therapeutic, at best, like replaying a favorite movie.  But, it does not move us to come alongside in the way true friendships do.  There is a bond, and I think it grows stronger, not weaker, with time.  But, how strong and how deep would our compassion be, if sacrifice were involved?  For that, don’t we need family?  Are we a family?

When one of our members lost everything in a fire this year, a fund was established, and classmates from across the country contributed.  Family? 

When another of us was laid up in a nursing home for rehab following yet another fibromyalgia surgery, I went to visit her.  I had a marvelous time, hoped I cheered her up, and promised to help her fiancé with her wheelchair at the reunion because she would still be in a cast.  Thing is, I was already in town for something else.  Would I have visited otherwise?  

A third classmate had surgery at an Iowa Cityhospital.  I went to see her, as well, after a few days, but she had already checked out that morning.  Thing is, I was already in Iowa City with Drew for his freshmen orientation, and he wanted to go to the hospital to see a girl who was there for leukemia treatments.  Drew and his friends had already visited their friend several times before.  I had never visited my classmate before, and made no effort to see her after that day, either, even though I ‘m sure she can’t live more than forty miles away. 

I have seen well-intentioned, churchgoing people commit parts of their lives, and portions of their treasures, in effort to help lift someone who was down-and-out.  But, I have watched those same “philanthropists”, when the object of their assistance returned to their former lifestyle, piously renounce and condemn them, as if the givers were somehow owed eternal thanks for their benevolence.

Is that what Jesus would do?  Is that what I would do?  I know how bristling it felt when people would come up to me, and ask how Alexis was doing, when she was struggling the most with her anorexia, instead of going to her to offer a shoulder.  You hypocrites!  You cannot feign compassion, and say, “Go, be warmed.  Be filled.”  You soothe your own consciences.  You sacrifice nothing. 

I’ve sensed that there are those in my class that have great hearts for compassion.  Nevermind my classmates; how real am I?  And, when you don’t have a history of being particularly compassionate, how do you convince people that you really are now? 

Or…would this, too, pass?

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