|Jerome Lee (center), father of slain Marine Dustin Lee, officially received Lex, an 8-year-old German shepherd, from handler Major Mike Reynolds. Lee's wife, Rachel, watched yesterday. (WALTER PETRUSKA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
Family adopts Marine's canine
ALBANY - A military working dog wounded in Iraq during a rocket attack that killed its Marine handler was adopted yesterday by the slain Marine's family.
Corporal Dustin Lee's family planned to take home the bomb-searching dog - named Lex - today after the 8-year-old German shepherd was granted early retirement.
It was the first time a military working dog was granted retirement to live with the handler's family, officials said.
"Nobody can do anything to replace the void in this family," said Colonel Christian Haliday, commander of the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, where Lee and Lex were assigned.
"We hope Lex can bring a small piece of his spirit and help maintain his memory," he said.
On hand for a ceremony at the base were the Marine's parents, Jerome and Rachael Lee, his sister, Mattie, 16, and brother, Cameron, 12, of Quitman, Miss.
"It's not going to bring back my brother, but it's something close to it," said Mattie Lee as she played with Lex after the ceremony.
Military officials initially told the family that Lex had another two years of service before he could be adopted. But the family lobbied for months - even enlisting the aid of a US representative from North Carolina - and the adoption came exactly nine months after the 20-year-old Marine was killed and his dog wounded on March 21 in Iraq's Anbar Province.
Second Lieutenant Caleb Eames, spokesman for the Albany base, said Lee and Lex were sitting outside at a forward operating base in Karmah when they were hit by shrapnel from a 73mm rocket explosion.
"A part of Dustin is in Lex," said the fallen Marine's father. "To have Lex at home is a part of having Dustin at home."
Rachael Lee said she believes her son's spirit will live on through the dog because of their close bond and because they were together during the final moments of her son's life.
"We can't get Dustin back, but we have Lex," she said.