A True War Hero
Family members and friends made phone calls, circulated a petition to send to the Marine Corps and government officials, and started a blog about Lex. Still, for months the Lees' requests for early adoption were stalled in red tape. Finally, Representative Walter B. Jones, D-N.C., heard the Lees' story and took up their cause. "Allowing the Lee family to adopt Lex will serve as a fitting thank-you to parents who gave the ultimate gift of their son for this country," Representative Jones said later in a speech on the House floor.
In December 2007, nine months after Dustin was killed, Lex was officially given to the Lee family in a special ceremony at Dustin's old Marine Corps base in Georgia. Then, through three states and more than 350 miles, the Lees were escorted home by law enforcement officers and the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who attend the funerals of fallen soldiers. For Rachel, the line of police cars and motorcycles, headlights blazing, brought tears. It felt like she was bringing home a hero and, indeed, she was: In February 2008 Lex was given an honorary Purple Heart in a ceremony in Fort Walton, Florida. Rachel accepted the award on behalf of all military working dogs and their handlers.
Just a few weeks after Lex's homecoming, Jerome, a Mississippi highway-patrol officer and a member of the Air National Guard, was deployed to the Caribbean island of Curacao. His five-month absence (which ended in May) made Lex's presence all the more comforting. "Lex is very protective and a great watchdog," explains Madyson. "If a stranger comes up, he'll get angry and start barking. It makes me feel safe." And yet, at night, sweet as a lamb, he snuggles into bed with different family members.
For Rachel, seeing Lex sometimes reminds her of the beloved son she lost at such a young age. But most of the time she finds refuge and strength in the German shepherd. "Whenever I look at Lex, hold him, touch him, I see Dustin."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2008.