Christensen

Marine dog fills a void

Staff WriterApril 25, 2010 

The story of Lex is a dog tale with a different twist.

Lex is a 9-year-old German shepherd who was also a U.S. Marine stationed in Iraq as part of a two-member team trained to locate explosives.

On March 21, 2007, in Fallujah, Lex and his handler, 20-year-old Corporal Dustin Jerome Lee of Quitman, Miss., were on patrol when an enemy rocket-propelled grenade exploded nearby. Lex, who received several shrapnel wounds, had to be dragged away from his master's dead body by corpsmen who were trying to treat Lee.

Lex spent 12 weeks recovering from his wounds at Camp Lejeune, although vets did not remove one piece of shrapnel for fear of damaging his spine. Lex, who received a Purple Heart, was declared physically unable to return to a combat zone and was shipped to a Marine base where dogs are trained in Albany, Ga.

Lee's parents began an effort to adopt Lex because he had been so much a part of their son's life. Their son had grown up loving dogs, and in Iraq he had often slept with Lex at his side. They also wanted to provide a happy home for Lex in his remaining years.

But Lex still had two years of service left and the armed forces rarely release military dogs prior to their scheduled retirement. Even after an online petition campaign, the Marines didn't budge.

Republican Rep. Walter Jones of Farmville heard about the Lee family's plight and contacted them. After pulling some strings in the Marine Corps, especially with the help of Marine General Mike Regner, Lex was headed toward retirement in Mississippi.

"When I read the story it broke my heart," Jones recalled.

Lex adjusted to civilian life just fine.

Rachel Lee, a schoolteacher, and her husband, Jerome, an investigator for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, say Lex has been a welcome addition.

"To have Lex is to have part of Dustin home," Rachel Lee said in a telephone interview from Jones' Washington office.

"He is a very good dog," she said. "He is very loving. He loves children. You hardly ever hear a word out of him."

But even as Lex enjoyed civilian life, the Lees wanted to share him with his former Leathernecks.

So Jones arranged, with the help of the Humane Society, to have the Lees and Lex visit the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital earlier this month.

The congressman, who accompanied the Lees and Lex on the visit, could hardly keep his voice from quavering as he described it.

As you might imagine, Lex was a big hit.

"Lex is a Marine," Rachel Lee said. "He is one of them. They loved him. They were able to pet him. He put a smile on their face."

Oh, one other thing. The Marine Corps' Albany base dog kennel was named in honor of Corporal Lee last month.

Marine Lex was in attendance, of course.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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