I rarely blog about my personal life, but sometimes I bend my own rules. My vacation weekend was just such an example. The pictures are back. It was me and a couple of other ladies, out on the town. Meg. Margie. And Yvette. Dressed for the occasion. Looking for….?
It wasn’t long before we encountered some gentlemen, obviously there for the same reason we were. Very good looking, I must say, although that shouldn’t matter. But we didn’t meet all three of them at first. What is it with guys, and their wingmen?
I approached the first two men. They were drinking. They told us where they were from, and all about their fraternity. They were out-of-towners, and admitted to not knowing their way around town...strangers in search of some TLC, I figured; you could tell that just from studying them.
Then, they started talking about their friend. “A heartbreaker … a real lady’s man” were their exact words. One of them pulled out a cellphone and showed me a picture of their buddy, presumably the alpha male among them, but nowhere to be seen. “Just look at him,” his buddy said, flipping through poses of a grinning and muscled young Adonis. “Six foot four, 240 pounds,” boasted his friend.
As I later found out, Weston Lee was crazy in love with a sweet young thing named “Savannah”, a beautiful nursing student, an angel on earth--but that didn’t keep it from being love at first sight, for me.
GOOGLE IMAGES: “Weston C. Lee”
How could I not love him? He had given his life for his country. So that all of us could have a Memorial Day that consisted of picnics and parades and concerts and fireworks, and pretty much doing anything we wanted to in this great, free country. The love we feel for a stranger--in this case, a stranger that I will never meet--may feel different than the love we feel for family and friends, but it is no less real. And it is part of what makes us human. It is, in fact, often the best part of our being human. In the words of John Donne, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee. Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind.”
Weston C. Lee was just 25 years old, an infantry officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Weston was on his first deployment. He was killed in an explosion during a patrol outside of Mosul. It happened on April the 29th. It was a Saturday. For most of the people on the planet, it was just another ordinary Saturday. Except for the people who got the knock on the door, or the call in the middle of the night.
I don’t remember what I was doing on that day, and I don’t suppose you can either. But it doesn’t matter. Because every day, somewhere, some similar tragedy is transpiring. And the universe, the nation, the ghosts and angels, they don’t ask much. Only that we stop, from time to time, and ponder the sacrifice made by people like Weston. And to live in gratitude for the amazing life that most of us enjoy--a life that is largely provided because of the ultimate sacrifice that they have made.
In his time with the Army, Weston had received several awards and decorations, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge and the Army Service Ribbon. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service Medal. He had also just gone through his official annual assessment, and was subsequently ranked by Captain Jimmy Webb as performing in the top five percent of all the lieutenants he had ever assessed.
“God has gained himself one hell of a soldier,” Lee’s brother, Chester, wrote on his Facebook page. “My brother, my friend, Weston Lee died in Iraq yesterday. And I am completely and utterly devastated. Right now, I and my family could use your prayers and love. I will miss you Weston, but I know right now you’re telling God what’s the next mission.”
It was only because of a twist of fate that I got to know about Weston, and meet his two dear friends. As it happens, Weston’s grave is not so far from my father’s: area 60, in Arlington National Cemetery.
There is no surge of patriotism quite like the one you feel when you visit Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day.
I miss dad every day, but it is an ache to which I have grown accustomed. I kept watching the two young men, out of the corner of my eye. They both took sips from a flask, toasting their friend. Then, as I knew they would, they poured a bit on his grave. One of the things that was most interesting to me was the way that they kept trying to leave, yet could not quite bring themselves to walk away. I had seen this before. I had done it myself. I think I knew exactly what was going on. Once you leave a funeral plot for the first time, that is the moment when you accept--really accept--that your loved one, your friend, is never coming back. It is not that you didn’t accept it before. But standing by that grave, it sinks in, on a much deeper level: the heartbreaking reality of ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
More to the point, though, you realize, that if you really love them, you now must start living your life-- in some small measure, at least--as they would have lived theirs, had death not taken them down. Their dreams, their principals, their passions, their visions, even their wit, now must become a part of who you are, and who you will be--or you will have ultimately failed in your task to remember them.
To honor them.
And when they did walk off, there was a spring in their step, unexpected in graveyards, but more predictable than you might imagine: it is the energy of the dead pouring into the living, imbuing an entirely new agenda, urging those of us who still have a pulse, to live the life that the dear departed would have joyously pursued, had fate but given them equal footing. A fair shot at a good, long life.
And then, of course, because it was Arlington Cemetery and Memorial Day, the heavens opened up, and then came the rain.
“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” -G.K. Chesterton
And on the front page of Weston’s memorial program, under Weston’s photo and the Airborne emblem, was a quote from General George S. Patton... “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”