Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Army Pvt. Thomas E. Lee III

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pvt. Thomas E. Lee III, 20, of Dalton, Ga.

Pvt. Lee was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; died May 29, 2009 in Mosul, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an explosive device struck his vehicle.

Chattanooga Times Free Press— Shirley Lee backed her son’s lifelong dream to join the Army, but when he was deployed to Iraq, there was never a moment that she didn’t worry about him.

“He wasn’t just my son — he was my best friend,” Mrs. Lee said Tuesday. “He wanted to fight for his country. He wanted to make things better for me and his sisters.”

Dalton Pvt. Thomas E. Lee III was killed May 29 in an explosion while on patrol in Mosul, Iraq. He recently spent 11 days at home with his family and returned to Iraq for another year of service.

Pvt. Lee also leaves behind sisters Ashley Lee, 24, and Katie Lee, 14. He was engaged to Misti Beasley, who says on her MySpace page that she is expecting his child this year.

Mrs. Lee said she went to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware this week to watch her son’s body come back to the United States.

Now, she and her family are completing paperwork and firming up funeral plans, she said. The funeral may be Friday, but she said she’ll know more details today. Ponders Funeral Home is handling the arrangements, Mrs. Lee said.

“Tommy is going to be buried in a military cemetery,” she said. “Everybody is going to be welcome to attend.”

Mrs. Lee and other family members said they were comforted by an outpouring of support from friends and community members.

“Everybody calls and wants to help, and I love them for that,” said Billy Hobbs, Pvt. Lee’s grandfather. “But what can you do? Just pray for us.”

Mark Seay, pastor of Swamp Creek Baptist Church, where Mr. Hobbs is a member and Pvt. Lee a frequent guest, called the soldier “a fine young man.”

“It was a privilege to know him,” he said.

The last time he saw his oldest grandson, Mr. Hobbs recalled, the young man visited his grandfather’s Sugar Valley home, where the two hugged and said, “I love you.”

“I will never forget that,” he said.

In less than two years of service, Pvt. Lee temporarily had lost his hearing from a bomb blast and was grazed on the hip by a bullet, Mr. Hobbs said. He became particularly worried about Pvt. Lee’s welfare after the last time they talked, not long before his grandson was killed, he said.

“Last time he called me, I heard machine guns going off and bombs going off,” Mr. Hobbs said. “I said ‘Tommy, what’s all that noise I hear?’ He said, ‘We’re fighting over here tooth and nail.’ I worried every minute after that.”

Pvt. Lee always told his family not to worry because he was doing what he wanted to do, his mother said.

He had loved tanks and guns since he was a child, his sister Katie said, and the family always joked that he would grow up to be like G.I. Joe.

He attended Whitfield County schools, but didn’t finish high school. He received his General Educational Development certificate so he could pursue his military interests, his family said.

Pvt. Lee had completed basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., where he received a medal for expert rifle marksmanship. From there he trained for desert combat in Fort Hood, Texas, before deploying to Iraq.

His sisters said he was a jokester, always playing pranks. But the young Lees’ father isn’t in the picture, and Katie and Ashley said Tommy was a father figure to them.

“He was a real man,” Ashley said. “He was a real hero.”

Pvt. Lee loved hunting and fishing, and he used to watch the History Channel to learn about World War I and II, Vietnam and other wars. He enjoyed camping and riding horses and valued time spent with his family, Mr. Hobbs said.

“He didn’t care anything about hanging around the mall,” he said. “He didn’t care anything about sitting in there on the computer. He liked outside.”

In the midst of heartache, there are two small comforts for the family — Pvt. Lee died doing what he loved, and something of him will live on in the child that is due sometime this winter.

“We hope it’s a boy because we don’t have anybody else to carry on the family name,” Katie said. “I feel like it will be a part of Tommy.”

Mrs. Lee wants her son to be remembered for his “happy-go-lucky” personality and for the love he spread.

“He was our light, our rock,” she said. “He was just our man.”

Now the boy from Northwest Georgia who grew up wanting to be a soldier will be remembered for giving his life for his country.

“He died doing what he loved to do — playing G.I. Joe,” Katie said.

Army Pvt. Thomas E. Lee III was killed in action 5/19/09.

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