Thursday, December 01, 2005

Marine Lance Cpl. Craig N. Watson

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Craig N. Watson, 21, of Union City, Mich.

Lance Cpl Watson was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, Calif.; attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward); killed Dec. 1 by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Fallujah, Iraq.

Robert Warner
The Enquirer

On a hilltop north of town, Union City folks circled the family of Lance Cpl. Craig Watson eight-deep in the snow.

Two U.S. Marines lifted the American flag from Watson's silver metal casket. Rifle shots rang out, then taps played mournfully across the cemetery.

Carefully, deliberately, the Marines folded the flag in silence. The only sound was the snow-muffled traffic of M-60 in the distance.

One minute, two minutes.

Finally the flag was folded into a perfect triangle.

One of the Marines held the flag. The other slowly saluted.

Then the Marine turned and knelt in front of Shirley Watson, Craig's mother.

Gently, he handed her the flag.

She sobbed the sobs that only the mother of a soldier killed in action could know.

And old soldiers cried.

So it was Sunday as the Watsons buried their 21-year-old son and brother, killed 10 days earlier in a bomb attack on troops in Fallujah, Iraq.

Earlier, in the same high school gym where three years ago Watson was beginning his senior season on the Union City High School wrestling team, some 800 people gathered to remember their native son.

On the spot where so often Watson's hand was raised in victory on the wrestling mat, folding chairs were filled with the people of Union City. There were classmates, teachers, coaches, veterans and out-of-town dignitaries, including U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, R-Battle Creek.

"Remember, time is a gift," said Ed Sybesma, the Union City assistant wrestling coach, a military veteran who recalled debating with Watson the merits of the Army and the Marines. "Seeing all of you here today, I know I'm not the only one who's thankful for the time I had with Craig."

"I need to tell you about the last visit I had with Craig," said the Rev. Robert Tharp of the Church of the Nazarene. "The sparkle in his eye wasn't there. He was worried. Craig was putting up a good front for all of us, but he had come to the end of himself.

"It was just a couple days before his redeployment to this mission that he believed so much in. And even though he believed he was making a difference in the world with his service, having to go back to Iraq for months and months on end, being away from all of you, it started to weigh on him — the hardships, the distance from home, the dangers.

"Craig needed something more than just cards and cookies to get him through. He needed more than the love of all of you. He needed something else in his struggle. ... He just sheepishly came up to me and asked if I could just go across the parking lot and unlock the sanctuary so he could pray. I put my arm around his shoulders and told him, 'Not only — I'll go with you.'

"We made our way to the front of the sanctuary; we knelt down and we prayed."

God gave Watson a new strength that day, Tharp said.

"He went out, went to California and got on a plane and went to Iraq, and put one boot in front of the other, and did his duty."

After the prayers, and the songs — "America the Beautiful," "Amazing Grace," and a recording of Vince Gill's "Go Rest High on that Mountain," hundreds of mourners made the trip across town to Riverside Cemetery for a full military burial service.

The procession of cars, led by nearly two dozen police and fire vehicles, passed under a giant American flag suspended overhead on Broadway Street downtown. Carried on a horse-drawn wagon, Watson's casket was viewed by hundreds of people lining the streets, some at attention, all honoring to their fallen hero. Church bells rang in solemn tribute.

Then it was on to the hilltop, to the crowd around the grave, and those somber last moments.

Snowflakes gathered white-on-white atop the caps of Marines in full dress uniform.

A final benediction, and it was over.

Union City had laid to rest young Craig Watson, old number 67 from the football team, the cute little kid with the soft eyes, the one with his arm around his dad, Jay Watson, at boot camp, the practical joker, the brother of Kevin, Bradley, James, Derek and everybody in the War Dawg platoon of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

The people walked back to their cold cars in the snow and wind, sadder but wiser, and knowing Craig's back home now.

Back home in Union City, where he belongs.

Marine Lance Cpl. Craig N. Watson was killed in action on 12/01/05.

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