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L/Cpl Justin D. McLeese USMC (Iraq)
Covington Marine killed in Fallujah
'All-American kid' is caught in an explosion
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
By Paul Rioux
St. Tammany bureau
A 19-year-old Marine from the Covington area was killed Saturday in Iraq during the battle for Fallujah, military officials said Monday.
Described by friends and relatives as a "true all-American kid," Lance Cpl. Justin D. McLeese died in an explosion during combat with insurgents in Fallujah, officials said.
His sister, Tara McLeese, said she last spoke to him two weeks ago as his unit was preparing to invade the insurgent stronghold.
"He said he might not be able to call for a while, and he told us to be careful. I told him, 'You're going into Fallujah and you're telling us to be careful?' " she said. "But that was Justin. He was always so brave and confident."
A 2003 graduate of Covington High School, Justin McLeese was deeply affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which played a role in his decision to join the military, relatives said.
"It made him so angry," his mother, Sharon McLeese said. "He really took it personally, and wanted to serve his country."
McLeese joined the Marines in October 2003 and was deployed to Iraq eight months later with his unit, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. He had been scheduled to return home in January.
"He was just 55 days from coming home. Fifty-five days," Sharon McLeese said. "I had it marked on every calendar in the house."
McLeese's girlfriend, Bethany Lewko, said his faith in God fueled his confidence and courage, even as he prepared for the dangers that awaited in Fallujah.
"I talked to him just before the invasion, and he asked me to send him a Bible because someone took his," she said. "He used the word 'took' instead of 'stole' because, he said, 'You can't steal a Bible. I guess someone else just needed it more than me.' "
Always gregarious, McLeese told relatives that he played soccer with Iraqi children and often chatted with civilians, many of whom expressed gratitude for the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"He was the kind of person that if you put him in a room full of strangers, he would have a room full of friends in five minutes," said his father, Daniel McLeese.
Relatives described McLeese as an "old soul" with a sense of responsibility well beyond his years.
He was the one his friends called when they got their truck stuck in the mud or they had too much to drink at a party and needed someone to drive them home.
"Everybody loved Justin," Sharon McLeese said. "He was a true all-American kid."
At Covington High, McLeese was an all-district defensive end on the football team.
Coach Darryl Graham said McLeese was a kind-hearted, thoughtful young man who hung around the field house to help out after practice.
"He was always going above and beyond what he had to do," Graham said. "He was just that kind of kid."
Sharon McLeese said she and her husband learned of their son's death from uniformed military officers who drove up to the family's house in the Flowers Estates subdivision in white vans Sunday about 2:30 a.m.
"I asked them, 'How bad is he wounded?' and started thinking about getting on a plane to go see him at the hospital. But then they said, 'We regret to inform you . . .," she said as her voice trailed off.
While waiting for more details about the explosion that killed her son, Sharon McLeese said she is comforted by the officers' assurances that he served with honor and courage.
"Before he left for Iraq, he said, 'I'm going to be all right, and you're going to be proud of me,' " she said. "But the truth is that I was always proud of him."
Webmaster MarineChat.com, Obituary NCOIC
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