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'He's on a mission': Vet's sacrifice inspires his mother to fight for other veterans

Major Darren Baldwin
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 09, 2021

On Sept. 11, 2001, Fran Wesseling immediately thought of her son as news of the terrorism attack on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the crash in a Pennsylvania field flashed on her TV screen.

Her son, Maj. Darren Baldwin, was thousands of miles away from the attacks, stationed in Germany, but she knew in her heart the tragedy would still manage to hit her close to home.

"I was in my office and staff started coming in and saying 'You're not going to believe what's happened,' and my heart sank," Wesseling said. "Because my son Darren was just out of West Point and on an assignment in Germany. As a mother, I thought, 'My God, first, he's so far away from us and second, he's in the military. What is this all going to mean?'"

After the attacks, Wesseling got a phone call from her son with news she'd been dreading she'd hear, inspired by the events of Sept. 11.

"He said 'Mom, I'm going to come back, I'm going to work to become a Special Forces Green Beret and I'm going to get in the fight,'" she said.

That's exactly what he did.

A 2005 U.S. News and World Report magazine cover prominently featured Baldwin, the captain of his Special Forces Team.

Days after the photo was taken, their Humvee was blown up by an IED.

"Their injuries, they walked away from in the beginning," Wesseling said. "They shook it off, called it 'they got the bell rung' but Darren knew he wasn't right."

Baldwin had a traumatic brain injury that worsened over time, giving him migraines, eye sensitivity and hand tremors. And it only got worse.

"He has progressed to ... he hasn't walked in 10 years, he hasn't talked in seven years," Wesseling said. "He can do nothing for himself. He's totally dependent on his angel wife, Bianca, to do everything for him."

The pair were married just a few years before the bomb exploded.

Wesseling said the couple still try to get out together as much as possible, but Baldwin is incredibly vulnerable to infections and bacteria, so caution is key.

Their courage as a couple inspired Wesseling and her husband to devote their lives to veterans. She founded the Green Beret Foundation Greater Cincinnati Chapter. The organization works to cover what the VA and insurance won't for injured veterans.

"My son said once to me, before he lost his ability to speak," she said. "He said 'If I had to do it all over again I would, Mom, so do it for my brothers.' And that's why we do it."

Baldwin's twin brother, Mark, is also part of the team, helping out at fundraisers. Wesseling said he refers to Baldwin as his co-pilot, inspiring him to fight and stand up, just like Baldwin did.

"I grieve for the people of 9/11 and I hope this country remembers those that were lost and those who ran in to serve and I'm saddened to my heart for my son and his military brothers and sisters who come back and they're challenged with the life that they have to live: the things they saw, the things they had to do," said Wesseling.

Despite the tragedy, Wesseling is proud of the young, determined son who couldn't rush in to help others fast enough two decades ago.

"His wife Bianca always says this," she said. "'He's on a mission, a different mission. A mission and a purpose that none of us here really understand other than we know that it helps other people.'"

In seven years, Wesseling and her husband have helped raise $1.7 million for the Green Beret Foundation through the Cincinnati chapter. The group's annual gala benefit and golf outing are two main fundraising events the couple helps with each year. The gala is Saturday, Sept. 11 and the golf outing follows on Sept. 12 and 13.