Amanda's needs are the cause and focus of this journey,
I would like to dedicate this site to Army National Guard Specialist
Justin Wayne Linden, who was killed by an improvised explosive
device on June 4th in Iraq, along with fellow Oregon Guardsmen
Sgt. Justin Eyerly and 1st Lt. Erik McCrae, after leaving his
Humvee to give cover to a convoy.
By chance (or Providence), on the second night of my train trip,
I was seated for dinner with Justin's parents, Wayne and Laurie,
and his sister Stephanie. At first, they seemed a bit uncomfortable
to be seated with a total stranger (especially an oddball like me!).
But the conversation warmed quickly. Stephanie worked at the Trek
bicycle factory as a wheel builder before returning to school, so
we had plenty to talk about.
Then, Stephanie dropped the bomb, telling me that they were on their
way from their homes in Wisconsin to her brother's funeral in Portland,
and the circumstances surrounding his death. When I started breathing
again, they told me a little about Justin.
Over the next two days, I spent most of my time with them. They
made me feel like a part of their family. Wayne, a Vietnam Veteran,
shared stories about Justin, who was not only his son, but also
his best friend. It was sheer pleasure to share Laurie's first
sight of the Rocky Mountains. She was absolutely ecstatic about
the views. (And they were awesome!) Stephanie told me all about
her son Miles and husband Alex, who stayed home (Miles, a big Scooby-Doo
fan, is four years old- too young to handle the ordeal); and about
her experiences with Trek.
They are a remarkable family. Their strength, sincerity, and pleasant
humor were clearly visible through their grief. By the time we
got to Portland, I was completely attached to them. Justin's wife
Sarah and her Mom came to the station to pick them up, and it was
really hard to watch them go.
I delayed the start of my ride until Tuesday morning, June 15th,
so I could attend Justin's funeral in Portland on Monday.
The huge church was packed, the ceremony incredibly moving.
There was more Brass in the room than in a candlestick factory.
the right of the stage was the "Fallen Soldier" display-
a standing rifle, it's bayonet driven into a sandbag, hemet propped
on top, dog-tags draped over the front, boots at the base.
An empty saddle sat on a stand next to the display. Trust
me- once you've seen a "Fallen Soldier" display,
you'll never forget it.
Anthem and several other musical tributes were ably performed by
Justin's cousins, aunt, and grandparents; clearly a very talented
musical family. The Governor of Oregon spoke, as did the Commanding
General of the Oregon National Guard.
presentation offered many pictures of Justin- from birth to
his service in Iraq. Justin's wife Sarah spoke (with unbelievable
strength) about his sense of humor, and his ability to give comfort
and support to family and friends in time of need.
read letters to Justin from Wayne and Laurie, as well as her own.
(No dry eyes- not even the Brass.) The Chaplain brought
all military personnel onto the stage for the closing song.
There were well over one hundred people on the stage (even one from
the Navy!), including at least a dozen active and retired Generals.
The Army knows how to honor it's fallen heroes, that's for sure.
was a long drive back to Astoria alone, to start my ride the