Over its history, America has lost some of its finest sons and daughters in foreign lands where they answered the call of their country with the ultimate sacrifice.
That sober point was made again this past Memorial Day weekend, one in which Southwest Georgia lost one of its sons, Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton, in a distant country.
According to reports, Sutton, who just a few years ago was protecting the quarterback on the playing field of Lee County High School stadium, died Saturday in the killing fields of Afghanistan as he served to protect his country.
Reports say that he was fatally injured by an improvised explosive device. Since U.S. military operations began in Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, at least 1,857 U.S. military personnel have been killed there.
This Marine — our Marine — was only 24 years old. Here, his memory lives on, even as the shock of his death reverberates in the region.
At 6-foot-7, he stood tall among his peers, both in size and demeanor. “He was just a good kid. Slow to anger — as big as he was you could understand how a kid his size could be overbearing or aggressive — but that just wasn’t him,” Lee County High School Principal Kevin Dowling recalled. “He had a kind way about him, was never any trouble and was the kind of student we strive to create here in Lee County.”
And by all reports, that was the kind of man — the kind of Marine — he grew up to be.
Details of exactly what happened and how it happened weren’t available by late Tuesday and funeral arrangements had not been made locally, but what is known is this — a fine young man, a fine young Marine stationed in a war zone in a country where our “allies” often turn on us, died a hero, one who was taken from us far too soon. A young man, full of promise, has died for his home and his nation, a sacrifice he didn’t want to make, but one that was required of him. Our nation is grateful to him, though we also realize we are poorer for his loss.
In the past week, we’ve celebrated the success of another native son of Lee County, and rightfully so. Signs up and down the streets of Leesburg and Albany were ablaze with best wishes and congratulations for “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips, a fine, deserved display of hometown and regional pride.
We hope that our area will similarly honor Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton, publicly recognizing his sacrifice and the sacrifice of his family, friends and other loved ones. In a nation where the word “hero” often gets misused to describe entertainers, politicians and sports figures, Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton is the true definition of a hero.
The death of a young man is nothing to celebrate. There is nothing that can be done to truly comfort his loved ones. It is a sober reminder of what our military personnel put on the line every day for a nation that usually is too preoccupied with everyday life to notice.
The death of this Marine, however, is something to publicly acknowledge, something to take to heart, something to appreciate deeply, and something to remember.
Rest in peace, Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton. America salutes you. We salute you. And we will never forget you.