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Community bids loving goodbye to Marc Lee

By KIRBY NEUMANN-REA

News editor

August 30, 2006

The tribute to a fallen Navy SEAL filled the hall Saturday.

The neighbor from Hood River or Odell, the sailor from Bremerton, Wash., the Patriot Rider from Minnesota: even if they hadn’t personally known Marc Lee, they know him now.

“A man of faith and a man of action,” is how educator Oscar Stenberg described Lee, who died with valor in Ramadi, Iraq, at age 28, saving the lives of his fellow SEALS.

About 750 people attended Lee’s service at Hood River Expo Center, a tribute that used words, pictures and music to honor Lee, a 1996 graduate of Summit Christian School (now Horizon).

“That Marc sacrificed himself came as no surprise to his family,” said Rep. Greg Walden, who presented flags to Marc’s widow, Maya Elbaum, and mother, Debbie Lee, who now resides in Arizona.

“I share the pride each of you must feel in claiming this young man as your own,” Walden said. “While his youth enlarges our sorrow, it also enlarges our appreciation for his sacrifice.

“He served his country and he mattered.”

It was the second service for Lee, who was honored Aug. 12 in San Diego. Gov. Ted Kulongoski attended that service, and due to a scheduling conflict, was represented in Hood River by Major Gen. Raymond Rees, Oregon Adjutant General, who read a letter of condolence to Lee’s family.

Debbie Lee read scripture in the service, after telling the congregation, “This is a day of thanksgiving.

“It may seem strange to hear me say that, but I am here to give thanks. Marc was an awesome kid, and there are not enough words to thank you for all the outpouring you have shown.”

Lee’s brother, Kristofer, said, “We wanted to do this service up here as much for our family as the people here who couldn't make it (to San Diego).”

The service was one of the largest events ever to happen in the Expo Center. Boy Scouts and community members greeted visitors, National Guard and Navy honor guards presented colors, the Mid-Columbia Community Choir sang two hymns, with brass accompaniment, and the Patriot Guard Riders came from around the country on motorcycles bearing U.S. and military service flags, along with their Hood River contingent, Soldiers’ Angels.

“Marc was a loving uncle, he was gentle with my kids,” said his brother-in-law, Chris Wells. “They liked being with him.” Marc started as his best friend in high school, then became brother-in-law and brother in arms.

“And then Marc became my hero,” Wells said.

“The confidence in his heart is reflected in the confidence in the faces of the Iraqi people,” Wells said. “I don’t know where we lost track of it; that 50 million people have freedom because of people like Marc giving of their lives and their time in Iraq.”

Lee is credited with saving the lives of his comrades in a firefight in Ramadi. Presiding Pastor Doug Iverson told the congregation, “I beseech you to pray for them — but to pray for them not just as warriors but as men of honor and men of courage.”

Iverson, a family friend, said, “I remember Marc’s muscles. I remember Marc as a little boy. He was concerned about his muscles even then.” He spoke of Marc’s passion for soccer and his tenacity in his SEAL training, the “incredibly unique” connection as men and family.

Among Saturday’s speakers was Tadd Bowlsby of Prosser, uncle of Navy SEAL Ryan Job, who suffered facial injuries but survived the Ramadi attack thanks to Marc Lee.

After the ceremony, he said, “You just can’t imagine what it is like to know someone who gave his life so one of your family could live.”

Oscar Stenberg, a family friend and administrator, said, “Marc was not a perfect young man, but he was a man of life.

“He enjoyed the soccer ball. He was a strong role model for young men in this community. He embraced life. He was characterized by giving his all to whatever he was asked to do. He was a dedicated and committed Christian. He was a man of faith and a man of action. On behalf of Horizon Christian school I thank God for the legacy of Marc Lee.”

Prior to the service, a group of protesters from a church in Topeka, Kans., chanted and held signs stating that military deaths are divine retribution for homosexuality in America. Law enforcement officers stood by and there were no incidents. A phalanx of Patriot Riders, a veteran support group from around the U.S., stood quietly between the protesters and the road, shielding them from view of the family when they arrived by car.

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