Second wind, by SSgt. Jimmy Stare
Corporal Tyler Steele Leidig was killed in a car accident the night of Dec. 23, 2006 in his hometown of Saranac Lake, New York. He was 21 years old. Tylerís passing didnít make many headlines across the country. His family said he wouldnít want to be remembered that way. Tyler Leidig was a modest man who possessed a character beyond words. He was considerate, loyal and strong. His story, as well as where heís from, gives a rare glimpse into the bedrock of this nation, and it deserves to be told.
He joined the Marine Corps on Oct. 12, 2004 and eventually became an air frame mechanic for Marine Aircraft Group 39. He helped fix Ch-46 helicopters in Medium Helicopter Squadron 268, based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Tyler spent seven months in Iraq at Al Taqaddum air base and returned to the states in March of 2005. Cpl. Kenneth Brown-Lovelace, a fellow Marine air frame mechanic with HMM-268, worked with Tyler in Iraq and summed up his character with a story. One day, the base received a mortar attack. As people began running for shelter, Tyler first made sure all his tools were secured, and then he checked on the Marines next to him before he and Cpl. Brown-Lovelace made their way to the safety of a bunker. Courage under fire came naturally to Tyler. Friends and family in Saranac Lake said Tyler always put others first.
Tylerís grandmother, Luci Leidig, said, ďHe was the type of kid you wanted to have around all the time.Ē She also said Tyler was very thoughtful and a good listener. Carol Reyell was Tylerís seventh-grade English teacher, and she said, ďHe was quiet, modest and kind.Ē Tyler joined the Marine Corps with his brother, Cpl. William Leidig. They went to boot camp together at Paris Island, South Carolina, and were even in the same platoon. When William was asked to give three words that would describe Tyler to a total stranger, he said ďgentle, kind, and loyal.Ē Loyalty seemed to be something Tyler was born with.
In early December 2006, Tyler married a girl named Sara at a quick ceremony in San Marcos, Calif. He had known her since the third grade and had once told her, ďI had you picked out from the beginning.Ē They kept their marriage a secret and were going to surprise friends and family with the news during Christmas. Sara said Tyler also planned to have a large, formal wedding in Saranac Lake in front of family and friends. They never got the chance.
The entire village of Saranac Lake seemed to be affected by Tylerís death, and mourners lined up by the hundreds for hours outside the funeral home. Tyler came from a large and close-knit family. His mother Janie had a unique way of honoring Tylerís memory. She asked people in attendance to call or hug someone they loved in Tylerís honor. It seemed like everybody in town took Janieís advice. The village of Saranac Lake treated the Marines from Tylerís unit and Marines from an honor detail in attendance for his funeral with overwhelming kindness and generosity. Everywhere they went, they were met with applause, handshakes and hugs. Their money was not accepted, and they were told many times over that their service to this country was greatly appreciated. It was easy to see from where Tyler got his character and spirit.
Lt. Col. John Gamelin, the commanding officer of HMM-268, was there to offer his condolences and support to Tylerís family and friends. Lt. Col. Gamelin said Tyler was currently the Marine of the Quarter for HMM-268 and had recently been nominated as Non-commissioned Officer of the Quarter as well. That was no surprise to anybody who knew Tyler.
A flag was flown in Tylerís honor over the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va. and rushed to Saranac Lake to be given to Tylerís wife Sara. It was a special honor for a very special person.
Tyler was laid to rest next to his grandfather at St. Bernardís cemetery. Tylerís grandfather was a veteran who served this country in World War II and rarely talked about his service. His name was Carl Bevilacqua. He was described by those who knew him as a modest man who had a lot to be proud of. Modesty, strength, faith and courage are traits that not only run in Tylerís family but in the village of Saranac Lake as well.
Those qualities were evident to me as I learned about Cpl. Tyler Steele Leidig and the village of Saranac Lake. I did not know Tyler, but Iíve known men like him. I was simply there as part of the honor detail.
As I lifted the flag off of Tylerís casket, I was unable to stop my eyes from filling with tears. As I helped to fold it, I was suddenly ashamed of every complaint I ever had about my service to the Marine Corps. I eventually found myself at parade rest, looking beyond Tylerís casket through some pine trees at a quiet, frozen lake with snow-covered hills rising behind it in the distance. I was unable to move.
The service ended and people streamed past me, but I still couldnít move. Over the last few days, the entire village of Saranac Lake had thanked me and the Marines with me for our service to this great country, and I quietly tried to find words to thank Cpl. Tyler Steele Leidig for reminding me that service to something greater than oneís self carries with it a very special honor.
I was standing there lost in thought when a woman, who appeared to be in her 70s, carefully walked up to me and asked, ďExcuse me, sir, is it alright to talk to you now, or are you still on duty?Ē I smiled, shook her hand and said that she could talk to me whenever she wanted to, and then I asked what I could do for her. She only wanted to thank me ó and those like me ó for our service. Then she locked arms with her husband, who also solemnly shook my hand, and they ambled off. He was wearing dress blue trousers, a red satin jacket with the Marine Corps emblem on it and a worn-in VFW hat cocked at a right angle on his head. Beyond them, I noticed for the first time the numerous military markers and Marine Corps flags that dotted many of the gravestones at St. Bernardís cemetery. It struck me that even in his death, Tyler was still affecting people in a profound and positive way. I left Saranac Lake the next day with some kind of second wind. Iíll always be grateful to Tyler for that.
So, if you ever find yourself on leave and somewhere near Saranac Lake, do yourself a favor and stop anywhere in town for a drink or something to eat. You wonít have to say anything; theyíll already know youíre not from the area. When they ask you what you do for a living and you tell them you serve this country, be prepared. They will thank you with such warmth and gratitude that you will never forget it.
Jimmy Stare, a staff sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps, is living in Syracuse attending school and serving at the Marine reserve station there.