Monday, May 29, 2017

Aiming High, and Giving All

Originally written November 2004

This past Wednesday evening, I went to the visitation for a brave young Marine from Wheaton, Illinois, named Nick Larson.

Lance Corporal Nick Larson. I didn't know him, but I felt compelled to do something symbolic to show my respect and admiration for all the thousands of young men and women who do the hard work that allows us to live free. And especially for those who die too young, doing something so selfless. It's the least we can do.

There were HUNDREDS of people there. High school kids, Marines, soliders, sailors, airmen, family and friends, uniformed police officers and EMTs, etc. The line was probably 150 feet out the back door and 4-5 people wide, and it stayed that long for a good hour after we got into it and inched our way forward.

We waited an hour and a half, my 16-year-old son and I. I didn't make him go, but did encourage him to, and left it up to him. He wasn't sure, but when he saw me getting my shoes on, he went into his room and got dressed and said "I'll go with you". I have never been prouder.

Unfortunately, the casket was closed; Lance Corporal Larson had been shot in the head and in the chest/back. He would have been 20 years old next week.

There was a nice picture of him, sitting at his kitchen table right before he left for Iraq, with a cake. The cake said "Good Luck". His expression in the photo was mostly serious, with a tiny sort of half smile, like he was mainly interested in taking care of business. Which he most definitely was, having started climbing ropes and working out at 14 in order to prepare himself for being a Marine.

I never knew Nick, but it still makes me sad and a little bit angry that a fine young man, so motivated and sure of his station in life at such a young age, is now buried in a cemetery not far from here. He'll never be a husband, or a father; the kids he might have had will never be born. So much future, wasted. I'll be visiting that grave, to plant little flags on Memorial Day, and maybe just to say a little prayer now and then.

So, I was humbled to be in the presence of such an outpouring of love and respect. There is something about those who die while in service of a cause greater than themselves; people instinctively respond to that, in a way that they don't for others.

God bless him, and his family, and may his memory live on in those that he touched, forever.

The poem from the little card at the funeral home reads:

I'm Free
Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free
I'm following the path God laid for me
I took His hand when I heard Him call
I turned my back and left it all
Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow
My life's been full, I savored much
Good friends, good times, a loved one's touch
Perhaps my time seemed all too brief
Don't lengthen it now with undue grief
Lift up your head and share with me
God wanted me now. He set me free

More details about Nick's story ...

Wheaton Marine dies in Fallujah - (James Fuller, Daily Herald)
Family and friends hugged and cried in the driveway at the Larson home Wednesday in Wheaton after they learned that Nicholas Larson, a 19-year-old lance corporal in the Marines, was killed in action this week in Fallujah, Iraq. 
Cars with red, white and blue magnets saying "Support Our Troops" crowded the street in front of the home as those who knew Larson gathered to grieve.

Some gazed at the red U.S. Marine Corps flag that hung limply outside. None of them was ready to talk publicly about Larson's death.

The Larson family was notified Tuesday evening by the Marines, with Wheaton police and a local ambulance providing an escort.

The offensive into Fallujah began its third full day Wednesday. At least 10 U.S. troops have died in the fight so far.

Larson, a 2003 graduate of Wheaton North High School was a determined individual, staff members said Wednesday.

"He was a quiet, focused and intense student," said Assistant Principal Matt Biscan. "It's rare for a kid his age to know what they wanted to do, but he knew he wanted to be a Marine.

"We're all very, very sad today," Biscan said. "It was shock when I found out."

Larson was the only son of David and Anne Larson. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Navy, friends said.

"He seemed like the kid who always wanted to go into the Marines," said Frank Rago of Wheaton, a high school classmate. "He was a good kid who just wanted to help his country. He was definitely very patriotic."

Friends said Larson's determination hit full-throttle when he hung a rope in the back yard to work on Navy SEAL exercises. He also lifted weights every day after school as he prepared to enlist.

"He was kind of scrawny in middle school, but (during high school) he became very muscular," said Tom Lundby, another classmate. "He did a lot of working out, a lot of pull-ups. He was really into that."

Tony Donaldson knew Larson since they attended Monroe Middle School together and found himself laughing at memories while struggling to grasp the loss of his close friend Wednesday.

"He was one of those guys that if you were deciding whether or not to go to school, you'd go just to see what Nick had to say during lunch," he said.

The two friends often chatted over the Internet while Larson was overseas, Donaldson said. In recent weeks, Larson was counting down the days, as his tour was set to end in January.

"He told me it was getting pretty bad, and he was genuinely scared about what was going on there," Donaldson said. "We all respect him for his choices. He died for it, but if there was anyone you'd want protecting your country, it was Nick."

Now it's my town's turn to sacrifice another fine young American.

I'll be going to the services for Nick, to show support and do my own little bit to thank him and his family and friends.

My sincere thanks to Nicholas for giving his life in a cause greater than himself, in fighting for freedom for people he didn't know.

May God rest his soul.