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Platoon mates share remembrances of fallen SEAL

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Second-Class Petty Officer Marc Alan Lee is the first Navy SEAL to die in Iraq. He was killed when he stepped into heavy enemy fire in the southern city of Ramadi on August 2nd. SEALs are among the most elite forces in the U.S. military. Lee was based in Coronado. He was laid to rest this weekend at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. KPBS Radio's Andrew Phelps has this remembrance.

As a kid in Hood River, Oregon, one of Marc Lee's dreams was to become a professional soccer player. But as a freshman on the high-school team, his chances looked slim.

Talcott: "Marc was a horrible soccer player."

Pastor Chuck Talcott was Lee's soccer coach. He would become Lee's lifelong mentor and friend.

Talcott: "He worked so hard, and he had such a drive and determination to become an excellent player. He really wanted at first to become a professional, and he would ask me as he was growing up, 'Do you think I have what it takes? Do you think I have what it takes?'"

Apparently he did have it. Talcott says Lee eventually became a soccer star - a good team player and even a bit of a show-off. Later, he overcame hellish training and pneumonia to become a Navy SEAL. Lee went on to dominate Iraqi soccer fields in friendly matches against Iraqi soldiers.

But Lee's platoon mates say his ambition and courage never masked the size of his heart.

Nick: "You know he's just secure in himself that, you know, a bunch of big, tough alpha male dudes that are trying not to show any emotion at all -- he managed to do it, and that's rare."

That's Nick, one of several Navy SEALs who fought alongside Marc Lee in Iraq. They gathered at a family barbecue and agreed to speak to KPBS on the condition we only use their first names. They remember Lee as brawny and boastful, but he also spoke openly of his love for God and family. When the guys played country music and rock n' roll at base camp, Lee turned up his own soft rock. At the blackjack tables in Vegas, Lee drew big crowds with his boundless energy. Teammate Kevin says Lee had no problem wearing a certain pair of pajama pants -- a gift from his wife, Maya.

Kevin: "They were chick pants. I'm going to go ahead and say this. They were chick pants, but he really didn't care. I think Maya bought 'em for him, and he wore 'em without shame. And we'd give him such a hard time, but he didn't care."

Lee's platoon mates say the bond that formed in the first days of training makes them brothers. So when Lee was killed, it felt like losing family. While fighting insurgents, the team came under surprise fire from a nearby building. Lee stepped in front of them to fire his machine gun at the attackers. Then he was hit.

Nick: "You know, it's baffling."

Nick says each SEAL struggles with the loss.

Nick: "To see your friend do that and, uh, and then die. You know, it's like an emotional experience for every guy in this room, as well as the other guys that were there. Um, and it's hard to describe, really."

His buddies say Lee was a consummate professional, and the way he died is proof of that. Kevin says he hopes for the same ending if he meets his fate in combat.

Kevin: "He died with his buddies and it's hard to convey that to his family because a loss is a loss and you can't replace it. And I'm sure he's looking down happy that we were around him in his final moments."

Marc Lee's pastor, Chuck Talcott, once questioned Lee's ambition to join the military. Now Talcott says he is proud of Lee.

Talcott: "To me, war is the last step a nation has to take to protect itself, to defend itself. And yet glory can be found in war. What he did was glorious. He stood up for other people, and he died for other people. He died for a teammate. He died for us."

Marc Alan Lee was 28 years old. Lee was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for gallantry and is survived by two siblings, his mother, and his wife. For KPBS, I'm Andrew Phelps.

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