Master Sgt. Dan "Bud" Wassom II's last action in this life was using his body to shield his 5-year-old daughter Lorelai as a tornado demolished his house Sunday, said his mother, Pamela Wassom.
At the hospital, Lorelai told anyone who would listen that her father had saved her life, Pamela Wassom said.
"Lorelai kept telling the emergency room people, she said, 'My daddy saved me; the house exploded and my daddy saved me; he's a hero,' " said the girl's grandmother. "And he is. He's a true hero."
His wife Suzanne also is a hero, said her sister, Teresa Cole. Suzanne Wassom shielded their 7-year-old daughter, Sydney, when the tornado tore through Vilonia, Ark., north of Little Rock. Afterward, she moved both daughters to safety and helped a little boy who lived across the street.
The master sergeant served in the Arkansas Air National Guard's 189th Airlift Wing for 12 years as a loadmaster. He had a college degree and could have trained to be a pilot, but he liked being a loadmaster too much, his mother told Air Force Times in an interview Thursday.
"We're a military family," she said. "His father is retired Air Force. His grandfather was in the Navy. He joined right after 9/11. That boy loved his country. He was patriotic. He even volunteered to go to Kuwait a couple years ago, and he said if it hadn't been for the wife and kids, he would even have stayed longer."
Wassom and his father shared a passion for old cars, she said. They rebuilt a 1934 Ford that was in his garage when the tornado destroyed their home.
"It actually survived," she said. "He and his dad worked on that car. They both loved cars. His favorite cars were Mustangs. But he and his dad would always talk cars. Just a couple of weeks ago, they went on a little mini-trip together to a car show in Oklahoma City. I'm so grateful that they had that memory now of that time they spent. They had a blast."
Growing up, he was always happy to show his mother how much he loved her, even when doing so made other boys feel socially awkward.
"When you're talking about teenage boys, they don't want to be seen kissing their moms or anything like that, but if I had to drop him off someplace, like school — even in high school, when he couldn't use the car — he didn't care who was around, he would lean over and kiss me and always hug me," she said.
That's the type of kindness that Wassom showed everyone, his mother said.
"I can honestly tell you I don't know anybody who disliked that boy because he was such a good person," Pamela Wassom said.
Above everything else, she said, her son was a dedicated father and husband who adored his two daughters and shared every responsibility for raising them with his wife.
"Even before he died, he was a hero," she said. "He served his country; loved his family, loved God; and he died doing what he did best: being a good father."