A highway dedication in Winston County, Miss., will help a family heal, and remind motorists of a fallen soldier’s sacrifice.
Friends, family members, and state officials filled Good Hope Baptist Church in Nanih Waiya on Jan. 16 to witness the dedication of Highway 393 in Winston County as the “Cpl. Dustin Jerome Lee Memorial Highway.” The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) will post and maintain signs along the highway to signify the dedication.
Lee was fatally wounded in a mortar attack on March 21, 2007, while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Fallujah, Iraq. Lee was a renowned dog handler, and his bomb-sniffing canine partner, Lex, also was severely wounded, but survived the attack. Lex, who was among those in attendance has since been adopted by Lee’s parents, Jerome and Rachel Lee.
“It’s an overwhelming feeling to know that our son’s name will be linked to this highway, but that’s not what this is about,” Rachel Lee said after the highway sign was unveiled. “This is about his brothers and sisters who are still fighting, and the ones that have gone with him. I’m very honored and humbled at the way the community, family, and friends have come together.”
A host of elected officials were in attendance at the service, including Northern District Transportation Commissioner Bill Minor, and state Rep. Russ Nowell, who co-sponsored the bill that led to the highway designation.
“As we dedicate Highway 393 in honor of this heroic young man, I can’t tell you how humbling it is to be a part of this ceremony,” Minor said. “Cpl. Lee’s sacrifice and service to this country will never be forgotten.”
Many inside the sanctuary were moved to tears as speakers reflected on the Lee family’s loss, and on the exemplary record of service that Cpl. Lee compiled.
Winston County Supervisor Luke Parkes brought smiles to the faces of those in attendance as he recalled a sometimes mischievous, but ultimately respectful and honorable young man.
“As people travel up and down this highway, children will want to know who Dustin Lee is,” Parkes said. “You can tell your children that Dustin Lee is the kind of hero you want them to grow up to be,” he said.
“He was a good boy. He loved hearing the stories that I would tell about his daddy. I’m sure at times, when he got in trouble, he would remind his father of some of the things I had told him. Dustin always had a smile, and he was a pleasure to be around.”
Lee was 20 years old at the time of the attack. He had worked side-by-side with Lex for approximately nine months, and he was scheduled to return home in May of 2007.
“We are proud to be here today with fellow Americans, to tell them about our son and what he meant to us,” Jerome Lee said after the ceremony. “Dustin always strived to be the very best at anything he did.”
House Bill 857, which was approved by the Mississippi Legislature during its 2007 session, initiated the process that led to the highway dedication.
Lee was born April 7, 1986, in Meridian, and joined the Marine Corps upon graduation from Quitman High School. Lee and Lex were attached to the 3rd Recon Battalion in Fallujah when the attack occurred.
After being reassigned to a Marine base in the United States, Lex was awarded a Purple Heart and was formally retired by the military.
Having Lex in their home has helped in the healing process, Rachel Lee said.
“When we brought him home, we had some of the things that Dustin had with him,” she said. “We wanted to ease him into it, because we didn’t know how he would react. But he went straight to Dustin’s things, moved some around with his nose, and looked at us like, ’Okay, I’m home,’” she said.
“Heroes don’t come along every day, but Cpl. Lee was a hero and a patriot,” said retired state Rep. Gale Gregory, who spoke during the ceremony. “He was a man who loved his country, and he gave his all for it. We will always be thankful to Cpl. Lee and to the brave men and women like him who have given their lives so that Americans can forever live in freedom.”
Those words were echoed in “You Were A Hero,” a song written and performed during the dedication ceremony by Lee family friend Tammy Parkes.
“You were a hero,” Parkes sang. “I knew it from the start, that one day to this country you would give your mind and heart. But what I didn’t know, when I let you go, is that you would be a hero that would never make it home.”